Shielding Elections from Presidential Influence: Lessons from Cabo Verde, Comoros and Madagascar

Cabo Verde and Madagascar require a sitting president seeking re-election to step aside in the run-up to the polls. Electoral observers have found that this little-known practice in the two island nations has helped level the electoral playing field. This report discusses the merits and challenges of the practice. It argues that implementation offers some useful lessons for cases where the abuse of incumbency is a threat to electoral processes. The report is divided into three sections. The first discusses the meaning and manifestations of the abuse of incumbency in Africa. The second details the nature and merits of the Cabo Verde and Madagascan experiences. The last section reflects on conditions for the applicability of the practice in other African cases. The report argues that though the practice is not a silver bullet for addressing all of Africa’s democratic ills, its implementation offers useful lessons for other African cases where the abuse of incumbency remains a threat to electoral processes. Its success is, however, dependent on the existence of strong political will and consensus in the ruling class to respect such a practice.