Cape Verde, eyeing economic recovery, votes for new president

FILE PHOTO: Cape Verde's Prime Minister Jose Maria Neves speaks during a news conference with his Portuguese counterpart Pedro Passos Coelho (not pictured) at the Necessidades palace in Lisbon December 17, 2014. REUTERS/Rafael Marchante/File Photo

PRAIA (Reuters) - The West African archipelago nation of Cape Verde, one of the continent's most stable democracies, voted on Sunday for a new president who will be tasked with righting its tourism-driven economy after the COVID-19 pandemic sent growth cratering.

Seven candidates are vying to replace the term-limited Jorge Carlo Fonseca, but only two are considered real contenders: Carlos Veiga from Fonseca's centre-right Movement for Democracy (MpD) and Jose Maria Neves of the leftist African Party for the Independence of Cape Verde (PAICV).

Both are former prime ministers. Veiga, 72, served from 1991 to 2000, and Neves, 61, from 2001-2016.

Early turnout appeared light in the capital Praia after polling stations opened around 7:00 a.m. (0700 GMT), a Reuters reporter said.

The economy is the dominant issue. Border closures during the pandemic cut off Cape Verde's beaches and mountains to tourists, causing growth in gross domestic product (GDP) to contract by 14% in 2020. It is expected to bounce back to nearly 6% this year.

Since independence from Portugal in 1975, there have been two presidents each from the MpD and PAICV. Democratic presidential elections have been held since 1991.

The MpD maintained its parliamentary majority in an April election despite criticism from the PAICV over its handling of the pandemic.

The presidential election will head to a run-off if no candidate receives more than 50% of the first-round vote.

(Reporting by Julio Rodrigues; Writing by Aaron Ross; Editing by Jan Harvey)

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