Praia (Cape Verde) (AFP) -
Cape Verde, a bastion of African democracy, held parliamentary polls Sunday with no clear winner in sight after a campaign dominated by the Covid pandemic and its impact on a tourism-dependent economy.
Neither of the two traditional major parties is predicted to emerge the outright winner, giving four smaller parties a chance to have their say over the group of islands off the west coast of Africa.
'The priority for me is to re-elect the government, fight Covid and develop the economy and tourism,' said Luis Leit, 44, after voting in the capital Praia.
With foreign tourism accounting for roughly a quarter of the economy and visitors unable to come because of global pandemic restrictions, Cape Verde, with a population of 550,000, was plunged into a historic recession in 2020, when output shrank by 14.8 percent.
Prime Minister Ulisses Correia e Silva nonetheless told reporters: 'We are very confident. We hope to have an absolute majority.'
But his Movement for Democracy (MpD) is being closely contested by the African Party for the Independence of Cape Verde (PAICV), a socialist party led by Janira Hopffer Almada.
The 42-year-old lawyer and former youth minister hopes to become the first woman to lead the former Portuguese colony.
After voting, Almada complained that the ruling party continued campaigning after the official end of electioneering on Friday, calling it a 'grave violation'.
- Virus surge despite isolation -
Both major parties pledged measures to provide wide access to Covid-19 vaccinations and to diversify the economy.
Although it lies around 600 kilometres (375 miles) off the coast of Senegal, Cape Verde has witnessed a surge in coronavirus cases.
With 189 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, the country had the highest rate in Africa according to the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention for the period from April 5 to 11.
Polling stations closed after 11 hours of voting, with just over 392,000 people registered to cast their ballots.
One-party rule in Cape Verde was swept away in 1990, and the first multi-party elections were held the following year.
In 2016, the MpD ended the PAICV's 15-year run with a historic victory, gaining 40 of 72 seats in the single-chamber parliament, the National Assembly.
Cape Verde has a semi-parliamentary system in which the prime minister wields executive power while the president plays the part of arbitrator in the event of intractable disputes.
Elections for the presidency take place on October 17.
In a continent marked by political unrest, coups or monolithic rulers who have been in power for decades, the tiny Atlantic archipelago stands out.
It ranks just behind Mauritius as the most democratic country in sub-Saharan Africa in the Economist Intelligence Unit's 2020 Democracy Index.