Voters in Cape Verde cast their ballots in a parliamentary election on Sunday that is likely to be dominated by the two parties that have exchanged power over the last two decades in the island nation.

The incumbent PAICV party could face a stiff challenge from the MPD opposition party, but voters are optimistic the polls will go smoothly in a nation that is poor but has been spared the political turbulence of many other West African countries.

It was the first time that I have ever voted and I am happy, said Antonio Carlos Santos Silva, a 20-year-old student, after casting his ballot in Praia, the capital.

Democracy is well-established and working in Cape Verde, he said.

Just under 300,000 people are eligible to vote for members of the 72-seat parliament. Whichever party secures a majority will be asked to form the country's next government.

There are no opinion polls, but observers expect voting to be close.

Provisional results are expected later on Sunday but the official figures will not be confirmed until Monday.

The PAICV and the MPD have dominated politics since independence from Portugal in 1975. Both have run the country for a 10 year stint each since multi-party democracy was introduced in 1991.

Election campaigning focused on two issues main issues; creating jobs and providing power.

There are major challenges that must be addressed quickly by the new government, such as high unemployment, the energy crisis and the lack of alternatives for young people, said Celina Semedo Andrade, an economist.

Cape Verde, a string of volcanic islands off the west coast of Africa, has virtually no natural resources and has endured chronic droughts that have forced mass emigration.

But the nation has long been an haven of stability in a region prone to coups and wars, and the country is one of the few in Africa that looks set to meet any of the Millennium Development Goals set for measuring development.

Having been hit hard by the global slowdown, partly as remittances, a key source of income, dried up, the economy is recovering. Driven now by a booming tourism industry, economic growth is seen at 6 percent in 2011, according to the IMF.

The country is becoming an increasingly important player in regional diplomacy while it is hoping to take advantage of its geography and political stability to become a key trade and transport hub between Europe, Africa and the Americas.