President Jorge Carlos Fonseca called it ‘an historic victory’. The incumbent president succeeded in winning no fewer than 74% of the vote in the presidential election that took place on 2 October 2016. His rivals, independent candidates Albertino Graça en Joaquim Monteiro, gathered just 22.6% and 3.4%, respectively.
The recent presidential election concluded a successful election year for the President’s centre-right Movement for Democracy (MpD). Earlier this year, the party had defeated the socialist African Party for the Independence of Cape Verde (PAICV) in both the legislative elections and the municipal elections. The MpD and PAICV dominate political life in Cape Verde and have alternated in power since the first multi-party elections were held in 1991.
To many, Fonseca’s victory in the 2016 presidential elections came as no surprise. Fonseca (66) is a lawyer, university professor, and perhaps most importantly, an experienced politician. He co-founded the ruling MpD party and served as Minister of Foreign Affairs (1991-1993). In 1994 he gave up his party membership and founded the Party of Democratic Convergence (PCD), an MpD splinter party. In 2001, he stood as an independent candidate in the presidential election, but finished third, winning only 3.6% of the vote. Ten years later, in 2011, and this time with the support of the MpD party, Fonseca beat PAICV candidate and former foreign minister Manuel Inocêncio Sousa in a runoff with 54.45% of the vote. Compared to Fonseca, university rector Graça and former freedom fighter Monteiro have less political experience and, perhaps more importantly, lacked party support. To be sure, in Cape Verde no candidate has ever won the elections without the open support of either the MpD or the PAICV.
The President partly owed his election victory to a successful first term. In particular, his decision in March 2015 to veto the Statute for Political Office Holders was well received by the people of Cape Verde. The law granted, amongst other things, a 65% wage increase to all elected officials. While the law was unanimously approved by the National Assembly it provoked outrage amongst the Cape Verdeans who considered it as a form of ‘legal robbery’. President Fonseca considered the concerns legitimate and decided to veto and return the law to the National Assembly. In a recent interview, the President said the decision was taken in an environment of great social tension. ‘It was not an easy decision to question a position that had been adopted and supported by virtually all the main political actors. There were long hours of meditation. The fact that the National Assembly did not re-examine the law revealed, indirectly, agreement with the measure adopted,’ he concluded.
It is important to note that the results of Cape Verde’s presidential elections have generally mirrored those of its legislative elections. So, from 1991 to 2001, the MpD held a majority in the National Assembly while its candidate António Mascarenhas Monteiro occupied the presidential palace. From 2001 to 2011, the PAICV controlled the National Assembly while its former leader, Pedro Pires, held the presidency. Cape Verde experienced cohabitation once in 2011. This unique situation emerged when the PAICV won the legislative elections in February and MpD candidate Fonseca the August presidential elections. The emergence of another unified government is thus far from being an exceptional situation in Cape Verde.
Fonseca’s victory was, however, ‘historic’ in that another sense: the presidential election was marked by record low turnout (36%), the lowest since 1991. Several factors may account for the high abstention rate. First, most PAICV supporters abstained from voting given that no PAICV candidate had joined the presidential race. The low turnout may also have been caused by voter fatigue. To be sure, it was the third time Cape Verdean had been asked to cast their votes in a period of less than half a year. Finally, it has been argued that the high abstention rate is a symptom of the people’s dissatisfaction with and distrust of the country’s ruling elite. Turnout in the parliamentary elections this year fell to just 66% from 76% in 2011. Political commentators have accused both the MpD and the PAICV of putting party loyalties above national interests.
Although the country is considered to be one of the most stable democracies in Africa, the 2014 survey by Afrobarometer concludes that more than 50% of citizens are distrustful of key institutions and the political system in general. Likewise, Cape Verde’s performance in the 2016 Ibrahim Index of African Governance worsened.
 Yet, it has been argued that Fonseca won the elections because the PAICV vote was split between two party-affiliated candidates.
 The PAICV decided not to nominate a candidate following its landslide defeats in the legislative and municipal elections of this year.