PRAIA (Reuters) – Opposition candidate and former prime minister Jose Maria Neves won Cape Verde’s presidential election on Sunday, as his main rival, the ruling party’s flagbearer Carlos Veiga, conceded defeat.
Neves, 61, who served as prime minister from 2000-2016, will inherit responsibility for stabilising the Atlantic archipelago nation’s tourism-driven economy after the COVID-19 pandemic drove it deep into recession.
President Jorge Carlos Fonseca is stepping down after serving the maximum two five-year terms allowed by the constitution.
Neves had 51.7% of the vote based on official results from 99.4% of polling stations, ahead of Veiga with 42.4%. Five other candidates all won less than 2% each.
Veiga, who served as prime minister from 1991-2000 and represents Fonseca’s centre-right Movement for Democracy (MpD), conceded defeat late on Sunday.
“The will of the people was heard and the will of the people was granted,” he said in a statement. “I want to offer my congratulations to Jose Maria on his election as president of the republic.”
Neves, of the leftist African Party for the Independence of Cape Verde (PAICV), said he wanted to be a president “who unites, protects and cares”.
“I must say that it is a great responsibility to preside over the Cape Verdean nation in these difficult times, and I receive this victory with the great humility that has always characterised me,” he told supporters.
The transfer of power will be the fourth between the MpD and PAICV since independence from Portugal in 1975, consolidating Cape Verde’s status as one of Africa’s most stable democracies.
Neves will have to work with a prime minister from the MpD after the party maintained its parliamentary majority in an April election.
His first challenge will be the economy, which contracted 14% in 2020 as border closures caused by the pandemic cut off Cape Verde’s beaches and mountains from tourists. It is expected to bounce back this year with growth of nearly 6%.
(Reporting by Julio Rodrigues; Writing by Aaron Ross; Editing by Peter Graff)