An interview with the President, Antonio Mascarenhas Monteiro
A single party bears the seeds of dictatorship
Who would have thought a few months ago that Antonio Mascarenhas
Monteiro - Tony, as they call him on the thousands of election posters still to
be seen all over the islands - would be elected President of the Republic by
three out of four voters in the wake of an MPD victory and with that
partys support? No-one. And certainly not Tony. He was hesitant about
standing for supreme office, as if unwilling to put himself forward, right up
until the last minute. For this is a modest man, it is true, who opens the door
of his little house in Praia himself, seeing in and out visitors to the home he
intends to live in even after taking up his duties.
Antonio Mascarenhas, who had a spell with the Guinean maquis in
the fight for independence before training as a lawyer in Louvain (Belgium), has
been President of the Supreme Court for the past 10 years and, at the age of 47,
is representative of his country. The Courier met him just a few weeks before
the official investiture on 22 March.
· Mr President, were you
surprised at your showing at the elections?
- Not at all. During the early election campaign from December
to 14 January, when the campaign proper started, I realised I had a very good
chance of a comfortable win, so I wasnt surprised. One or two of the
opinion polls even suggested I would do a bit better.
· The post is a rather unusual
one in this country now, isnt it, because, unlike your predecessor, you
have no political responsibilities, do you? Or have I got that wrong? How do you
- A President of the Republic, I believe, still has political
functions even in a semi-presidential system. The Presidents powers have
not yet been fixed, that is true, and the Assembly is going to revise the
constitution to take care of that soon. But the President, to my mind, has moral
authority. He may also wield influence, which is very important in a country
like ours. There are some fields in which, traditionally, the President can
intervene, of course, like foreign affairs and national defence. He can have an
influence I believe, nevertheless.
· Will the present external
relations policy he changed at all?
- No, not fundamentally, because our existing relations,
particularly with the European countries and the USA and the African countries,
have to be kept up and taken further if at all possible. Cape Verdes
involvement in our sub-region of Africa and in inter-African organisations like
ECOWAS and the OAU will be more important than it was before. We are going to
try and see if we can do a little bit ore than before.
· You are still a young man and
you could perhaps have chosen a more active job than that of father of the
- That doesnt depend only on me. As you know, the
Presidents powers have yet to be defined. I do not personally refuse to
wield wider powers than those currently enshrined in the constitution. But the
Assembly has to decide what my powers are first and that 1 shall act in the
light of them afterwards. I cant tell you now that I know the Assembly
will be revising the constitution in a months time and I shall have such
and such a power when it has finished. That would be very unwise of me. But I do
know that the idea is to redefine the powers of the President.
· The election campaign has
apparently left signs of a split in the population. Is that so?
- No, I dont think so, because there was a massive vote
for one candidate. My opponent only got 26% of the votes, but I dont
believe that 26% of Cape Verdeans look upon themselves as an enemy faction of
the majority which voted for me. The campaign was hard, there is no doubt about
that, once my opponent and his team realised that their chances of winning were
minimal. As I said, it was obvious in January that I was going to win. All the
surveys said so and the best survey is contact with the people. I was
enthusiastically received everywhere I went. There was great euphoria
whereas they were so cool with him that he sometimes had to cut his meetings
· Why do you think the people
stopped hacking the PAICV and the former President?
- I think because a single party in power for 15 years is too
much. A single party bears the seeds of dictatorship and nepotism and some abuse
of power, although things never got beyond a certain point in Cape Verde, of
course... People who are in power for years get arrogant in the end too, because
they are accountable to no-one, and that is the mentality which led to
disenchantment with the PAICV and its regime.
When you are there for so long, you start protecting your
friends and spending money in ways not always catered for by the law. And then
you get power-weary. Even in democracies, this leads to the party in power being
thrown out and the phenomenon is even more marked in a single party.
· Cape Verde has taken the same
path as Sao Tomanother island country and a Portuguese-speaking one as well.
Will democracy catch on faster on Portuguese-speaking islands, do you think?
- I dont know. I think its just a coincidence. It
could well have been Guinea and Benin instead of Sao Tomnd Cape Verde, for
· Except that those countries
leave lots of political parties and Cape Verde hasnt. Is there room for
more parties here?
- Theres always room. Indeed, there is a law which
provides for political parties to be set up. All a group of men and women have
to do is decide to form a party and they can. Two parties are being legalised at
· If these parties were legal,
might they not take some of the MPDs popular support?
- Yes they might. If you are trying to beat a single party
system on your own and you have popular support, you are bound to catalyse the
whole of the opposition. But if there were other political forces, I think that
the votes would be spread right across the opposition.
· In future, then, you expect to
gain fewer roses?
- Of course, because if there are other parties out there, they
are bound to get votes too.
· Will the new team have the
people it needs to put its policy into practice?
- Yes, I think we have a sound government team of competent
people here, but when it comes to putting policy, economic policy especially,
into practice, it is not just people you need. You have to have material
resources and that does not just depend on us. As you know, Cape Verde is a very
poor country which depends above all on international cooperation to go on
· But arent you worried
that in a country run by the PAICV for so long, the senior people might stay
loyal to them?
- That is not the question. Those who belong to the other party
are entitled to go on working. They will be used a; cadres, as Cape Verdean
citizens. We are short of senior people, in fact, although we are perhaps not so
badly off as other countries in this respect. There is a lot of ground to cover
here too, I think.