by Leysley Nasimiyu
The Republic of Cabo Verde held its Presidential Election on 17 October 2021. Former prime minister (2000-2016), Jose Maria Pereira Neves from the African Party for the Independence of Cabo Verde (PAICV), was elected President after winning the first round with 51.7% of the votes, thus averting the need for a runoff. Campaigns leading to the 17th October elections were largely peaceful and cordial despite the polarisation of the political landscape by a historic number of seven presidential candidates. However, the measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19, such as social distance and the extension of voting time by one hour, were not systematically followed.
Cabo Verde is a semi-presidential representative democracy with presidential elections scheduled every five years. The Prime Minister holds executive power while the President serves as the head of the State, taking the role of a mediator. The country has an outstanding record of regularly-conducted democratic and peaceful elections since its independence on 5 July 1975. In 2016 Cabo Verde ranked 23rd of 167 countries on The Economist Democracy Index, making it the second-highest-ranking African country with a vibrant democratic space. As of 2020, however, Cabo Verde ranked 32nd with an overall score of 7.65 out of 10. Two political parties, the African Party for the Independence of Cabo Verde (PAICV) and the Movement for Democracy (MpD), have alternated power since the introduction of multi-party democracy in 1991.
Cabo Verde has a unicameral parliament with legislated gender quotas for the National Assembly and the sub-national level. Article 415 (1) of the Electoral Law no. 92/V/99 provides for gender parity in political representation through a 40% minimum representation of both sexes in parties’ candidate lists for the National Assembly, City Council, Municipal Assembly and other collegiate bodies of power. Article 4 of the Constitution of the Republic of Cabo Verde also guarantees the inclusion of women in the political processes. According to the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Score 2021, Cabo Verde ranked 68th out of 156 in terms of the global gender gap, while in terms of political empowerment, the country ranked 99th.
Women’s Political Participation
Following the adoption of the gender parity law in 2019, the number of seats held by women in the National Assembly rose to 28 out of 72 (38.9%) from 17/72 (23.6%) seats held by women after the 2016 elections. In the 2016 elections, women were under-represented as candidates and as leaders of parties at the national level. Only one of the six competing parties, the African Party for the Independence of Cabo Verde, had a woman candidate for prime minister. In the same elections, 21% of candidates were women, but only 14.6% of the parties listed women at the top of their list. Thus, the increase in women’s political participation in the 2021 elections can partly be attributed to the legal sanctions for non-compliance. Article 431 (2) of the Electoral Law categorically restricts public funding to only those parties or coalitions whose lists presented for national elections contain at least 25% women candidates. Although Cabo Verde has not had a woman presidential candidate, the country is one of two African States with a female leading the main opposition party. Janira Hopffer Almada has been the President of the African Party for the Independence of Cape Verde since December 2014. She has also contested for Prime Minister twice, in 2016 and 2021.
In terms of legislation providing for women’s political participation, Article 1 (2) of Cabo Verde’s 1980 Constitution recognises the equality of all citizens before the law and Article 54 endorses equal participation of women and men in politics. Furthermore, Cabo Verde has shown serious commitments to improving the general welfare of women not only through the Constitution but also by becoming a signatory of international protocols on women’s rights, including those on prevention, suppression and punishment of trafficking in persons, especially women and children. One of these international protocols is the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), ratified in December 1980, making Cabo Verde among the first countries to do so. Another is the 2005 ratification of the Maputo Protocol, whose Article 9 stipulates the right of women to participate without discrimination in all elections. In addition to promoting women’s political participation, Cabo Verde has also taken action to address Gender-Based Violence (GBV). In 2011, the Special Law on Gender-Based Violence was passed, which imposes criminal penalties on the perpetrators of GBV - including physical, psychological or sexual violence.
Cabo Verde’s 2021 Presidential Election attracted a record seven candidates. Despite the record number, none of the candidates was a woman. Cabo Verde recorded a marked increase in the number of women in parliament, from 17 of the 72 seats in 2016 to 28 in 2021. This rise was attributed to key developments before the election, including adopting new legislation in 2019 that instituted a 40% gender quota. This law was bolstered by a crucial provision that rewards political parties with a list of at least 25% women candidates with public funding for complying. With legal sanctions for non-compliance guaranteeing women’s political participation, more measures, particularly those aimed at eliminating traditional social constraints and encouraging the electorate to vote for women representatives, could be put in place if the 40% equality threshold is achieved.