SAO TOME AND PRINCIPE
| Democratic Process
This section has been updated
by Mr Boubacar Issa Abdourhamane,
a doctorate student at the CEAN, IEP Montesquieu University of Bordeaux
At the beginning of 1989, the
Central Committee of the MLSTP (Movimento popular de libertação de São Tomé e
Principe), the single party, announced that a National Conference was to
be held and that it would be open to independents. Convened on the 5-7
December that year, this conference called for the end of the single-party system and, on
10 December, the GR (Grupo de reflexão) was founded the embryo of an
opposition party. Miguel Trovoada, who had been in exile in Paris, returned on 30 May 1990
after nine years abroad. His return triggered a large-scale popular demonstration. In
August 1990, the government organised a referendum to approve the change in the
Constitution abolishing the single-party regime (72% yes, despite a call from the
opposition to boycott the vote). On 4 November, the GR transformed itself into the
Democratic Convergence Party (PCD - Partido da convergência democrática) under
the leadership of Leonel dAlva (President) and Daniel Daio (Secretary General). The
MLSTP in crisis was reconstituted in mid October 1990 and added the appellation Social
Democratic Party (MLSTP/PSD - Parti social-democrata) led by Carlos Graça with
the support of Pinto da Costa. In November, however, the latter decided not to stand for
the presidential elections.
In the general elections of 20 January 1991, the Democratic Convergence Party (PCD) beat the MLSTP with 54.4% of the votes and 33 seats against 30.5% and 21 seats (with one seat going to the CODO party Coligação democrática da oposição).
In the presidential elections of March 1991, Miguel dos Anjos da Cunha Lisboa Trovoada, the only candidate standing, won 82% of the votes (40% abstention) and was invested in office on 3 April. Daniel Daio became the Prime Minister, but his relations with President Trovoada deteriorated rapidly and the latter dismissed him in April 1992 whilst supporting the emergence of Independent Democratic Action (ADI Açcão democrática idependente) led, among others, by his son Patricio Trovoada. A new PCD Prime Minister, Norberto Costa Alegre, was appointed on 16 May 1992.
The early general elections of October 1994 punished the failures of both the PCD government and President Trovoada: the MLSTP/PSD won a clear victory, winning 27 seats in parliament against 14 for the PCD and 14 for ADI, with a low turnout (48% of the 56,000 registered voters did not vote). This was one of the first cases of a former single party being returned to power in open elections although it must be admitted that the party was now unrecognisable. Carlos da Graça became Prime Minister. The social situation worsened, however, with the rise of a certain level of insecurity, something new in this country, and the political class going through bitter crises that did nothing for the reputation of the State.
At dawn on 15 August 1995, a few dozen soldiers who had received no wages for several months, led by young NCOs, attacked the presidential palace and arrested President Trovoada. It was the first coup détat of the democratisation period in Africa. Second Lieutenant Manuel Quintas de Almeida announced the formation of a Junta of National Salvation with the sole aim of coming to an agreement with the political parties on the formation of an efficient government. The coup détat was denounced unanimously, however, by the international community and the African countries. The MLSTP, ADI and PCD met the mutineers and agreed to negotiate in exchange for the re-establishment of the Constitution. The military demanded impunity and a reform of the powers of the Chief of State. On 21 August, the Assembly voted in favour of the amnesty and the coup détat came to an end on the 22nd without having affected the day-to-day life of the population. President Miguel Trovoada came out of the crisis in a weaker position (his term of office was officially to come to an end on 3 April 1993). The MLSTP and the PDSTP-CODO signed a pact of national union on 29 December, but the PCD refused to join them. Carlos Graça resigned on the 30th to allow the creation of a government of national union until the presidential elections scheduled for 3 March 1996. This government took office on 5 January 1996 with Armindo Vaz dAlmeida (MLSTP) as Prime Minister, a majority of MLSTP ministers but also four ministers from the ADI and one CODO.
Former President Pinto da Costa announced his candidacy as an independent citizen on 19 January with Miguel Trovoada initially waiting and then finally announcing his own. In the meantime, the electoral roll census was progressing with great difficulty due to a lack of means and resistance from the population. In fact, 15 of the 60,000 voters were registered between the 5 and 22 February 1996. On 9 and 10 March, a strike by the police demanding a clearer definition of their role and that of the army followed by a strike among health staff from 11 to 17 March contributed to making the social atmosphere tense.
On 3 March, the elections were postponed. Census operations resumed on 22 March, with assistance from France. Four other candidates finally declared their intention to stand, the three main ones being former President Pinto da Costa, who won the support of a large majority of the congress of the MLSTP on 23-24 March, Carlos de Graça as an independent candidate and Alda Bandeira designated by the PCD, who called on the female population for support against the inability of politicians.
The presidential elections were finally held on 30 June and 21 July 1996. In the second round, the outgoing President, Miguel Trovoada, won against ex-President Da Costa with 52.74% of the votes. This narrow win opened the way to contestation of the fairness of the election, thus contributing to the aggravation of the political crisis that had started with the aborted coup détat of 1995. The political scene thus became structured around two opposed poles: on the one hand, there was now the MLSPT-PSD and the PCD-GR who governed with a majority and, on the other, the ADI, PDSTP-CODO, FDC-PSU and AP-PT, a coalition created in October 1996 to support President Trovoada but which held only a minority in parliament. The appointment of the Prime Minister in 1996 set the tone of the confrontation between the two sides.
In search of a solution to the political crisis, President Trovoada put forward the idea of a Forum of National Unity and Reconstruction. This forum was held from 27 to 30 March 1998 with some 600 delegates taking part, including the 55 members of parliament, the representatives of the political parties, the professional organisations, NGOs etc. Although there were disagreements as to whether the decisions of the forum were binding or not, the participants did come to an agreement on the need to revise the Constitution, to set up a government of national unity and to extend the term of office of the members of parliament until the end of the transition period. However, these projects took time and the elections were finally organised in November 1998. The MLSPT-PSD, the former single party, got an absolute majority with 31 of the 55 seats in the National Assembly. Its former ally, the PCD-GR, won 8 seats with the other 16 seats going to the ADI, the party of President Trovoada. He is therefore still obliged to work with a Prime Minister from the MLSPT-PSD.
The democratic process in São Tomé and Principe, exemplary at its beginnings, is currently bogged down in a profound political crisis. The country has been shaken by a wave of scandals involving corruption, and several high-ranking authorities have been summonsed to appear in court. The National Assembly refused to lift the parliamentary immunity of former Prime Minister Armindo Vad dAlmeida when the Court of First Instance of Sâo Tomé wanted to hear him in October 1999. There was a more positive note, however, when the presentation of the programme of the new Prime Minister, Posser Da Costa, was passed unanimously by Parliament.
However, the two main parties in the parliamentary opposition, the PCD-GR and the ADI, have announced that they will vote against approving the 2000 State budget, as it does not take the recommendations of the IMF and the World Bank into account.
This country, which was one of the first in Africa, even before Benin, to experience changeovers of political power with the defeat of President Da Costa on 3 March 1991, is now seeking to find a democratic routine as the end of the last term of office of President Trovoada approaches in 2001. The battle for the upcoming presidential elections has already started: in September 2000, Francisco Fortunato Pires, the Speaker of the National Assembly of São Tomé and Principe and a former Secretary General of the MLSTP-PSD, accused the leader of his party, ex-President Manuel Pinto Da Costa, of being an anti-democrat. The rivalry between the two men is connected with the announcement by the former President of his intention to stand for the next presidential elections.
The countrys first
Constitution was approved in a joint session of the politburo of the MLSTP and the
Constituent Assembly on 5 November 1975 and was passed by the latter on 12 December. It
was revised on 30 December 1980 (Constitutional law n° 1/80), 31 December 1982 (law n°
2/82), amended on 31 December 1987 (Lei de emenda constitucional n° 1/87) and
revised again on 28 March 1990 (pluralism). The new Constitution adopted in March was
approved by the referendum of 22 August and came into force the following 10 September. It
established a lay State, independent, unitary and democratic, whose sovereignty resides in
universal, secret, direct ballots. It created a semi-presidential regime but with a strong
The President is elected for five years and can serve a maximum of two terms of office. He is the commander in chief of the armed forces and reports to the Assembly. The Prime Minister is appointed by the President of the Republic on the basis of the election results. He reports both to the President and to the Assembly. The President of the Republic may dissolve the National Assembly in case of serious crises. In such respects, the regime is a semi-presidential one.
The single-chamber parliament of 55 members is elected for four years by universal suffrage and by proportional representation by constituency. It sits for ordinary sessions twice a year or in an extraordinary session on proposal of the President, the cabinet or two-thirds of its members. The Assembly elects its own Speaker and a permanent commission. The Constitution may only be revised by a three-quarter majority of the Assembly on the basis of the amendments presented by a two-third majority. This revision may be ratified by referendum. The National Assembly may pass a vote of no confidence against the government. One original aspect of the regime is the fact that the National Assembly also checks matters of constitutional validity.
The legal system of São Tomé and Principe
is practically entirely the same as the Portuguese legal system. The one jurisdiction that
differs, the Tribunal Contra-revolucionario, was abolished in February 1989. Legal power
is exercised by the Supreme Court and the other tribunals. The Supreme Court, the highest
jurisdiction in the land, is responsible before the Assembly and it is the Assembly that
appoints its members.
The Minister of Justice has qualified the current penal laws as obsolete and has proposed to draw up new laws in the course of a seminar comprising legal experts, civil servants of the legal departments and the police.
Decentralisation and Devolution
The micro-State of 136,780
inhabitants (estimation July 1994) with a surface area of 1,001 km2 spread over an
archipelago of islands, is composed of two main islands which are concelhos, Sao
Tomé (859 km2 for 117,300 inhabitants in 1991, capital Sao Tomé, 40,000 inhabitants
approx.) comprising six districts and Principe (142 km2 for 6,700 inhabitants, capital Sao
Antonio, 1,500 inhabitants approx) which constitutes the countrys seventh district.
The concelho of Principe has been granted autonomous status. Local elections
(district assemblies) took place for the first time in March 1980.
The organisation of multi-party local elections with multi-name lists gave new importance to the districts. The district assemblies elect district councils (Câmaras distritais). Only officially recognised parties may stand for election, either individually or in coalition.
The law on political parties
(Lei dos partidos politicos) n°8/90 of 31 May requires 250 signatories checked
by the Supreme Court for a party to be recognised.
Certain clandestine opposition parties have disappeared with democratisation: the FRNSTP (Frente de Resistência nacional de São Tomé e Príncipe) led from Gabon by Carlos de Graça, disappeared in 1986; the small FRNSTP-Renovada led by Afonso dos Santos from Cameroon was destroyed in a strange attempt at a military landing in March 1988; the UDISTP (União democrática independente de São Tomé e Príncipe) distributed a few leaflets in Lisbon and in the country; the ADM (Açcão democartica nacional).
There are six parties of which only three (MLSTP, PCD and ADI) are currently represented in the Assembly (the CODO is no longer represented).
- ADI, Accao democratica independente, founded in 1992 by those close to President Miguel Trovoada, including his son Patricio Trovoada.
- FDC-PSU, Frente démocrata crista-Partido social da nidade led by Artur Torrs
- MLSTP-PSD, Movimento de libertaçao de Sao Tiomé e Prncipe/ Partido social-democrata, founded in 1960 as the Committee for the Liberation of STP in Ghana, a member of the Conference of nationalist organisations of the Portuguese colonies (CONCP founded in 1962), then becoming a movement at its congress in Equatorial Guinea on 12 July 1972; Manuel Pinto da Costa was its President as well as the President of the Republic.
- PAP or AP, Parti da aliança popular, created in 1992 by Carlos Espirito Santo.
- PCD/GR, Partido da convergência democrática/ Grup de reflexao, founded as a think-tank on 10 December 1989 and as a party on 4 November 1990 by dissidents from the MLSTP who refused to follow Carlos de Graça in the return to a single-party system. Led by Alda Bandeira.
- PDSTP-CODO the CODO was initially created in Lisbon in April 1990 by members of the FNRSTP, the UDIST and the ADN and became a party in Sao Tomé on 30 June 1990, formed by dissidents from the PCD/GR who has refused to support Miguel Trovoada. Led by Virgilio Carvalho.
The trade union movement is
weak. Recently, the National Union of Health Sector Workers (SINTRASA, Sindicato
nacional dos trabhaladores da da Saude), led by Carlos Ramos, organised a strike. The
first general strike since independence (1975) was observed in March 1998, when 3,750
civil servants of the State Workers Union (STE) called for the payment of salaries
In April 2000, an agreement was signed between the unions and the government to set the minimum salary and thus put an end to the longest strike the country had known since independence. Further to this strike, two ministers resigned from the government those of Foreign Affairs and of the Civil Service.
The death penalty was abolished in November 1988. The Constitution recognises freedom of conscience, expression, association and to demonstrate. All citizens aged 18 years are eligible to vote after compulsory registration. It should be noted that the inhabitants of the four Portuguese-speaking countries in Africa present in the country at the moment of independence may be registered and have the right to vote.
Press freedom is recognised
by the Constitution, but in this country of just a few hundred thousand inhabitants, there
are not many publications and they are rarely regular in their appearances. We will
- Noticias de sao Tomé e Principe
- O Parvo
- Nova Republica
- Diario da Républica de Sao Tomé e Principe, a government paper founded in 1836 (Imprensa nacional, C.P. 28, Sao Tomé)
- Povo, founded in 1985, a weekly magazine (Rua 3 de fevereiro, Pérdio da Flebe, Sao Tomé).
Sao Tomé has a national radio station that broadcasts seventeen hours a day and a national television channel that broadcasts 5 to 6 hours per day. It should also be noted that, since 1999, a new regional radio station on Principe has started broadcasting. In 2000, the government announced its intention of privatising the public media (radio and television) after criticism from the opposition about their bias.
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