São Tomé and Príncipe

PR Political Rights 35 40
CL Civil Liberties 49 60
Last Year's Score & Status
84 100 Free
Global freedom statuses are calculated on a weighted scale. See the methodology.

header1 Overview

São Tomé and Príncipe holds regular, competitive elections and has undergone multiple transfers of power between rival parties. Civil liberties are generally respected, but poverty and corruption have weakened some institutions and contributed to dysfunction in the justice system. Threats to judicial independence have been a growing concern in recent years.

header2 Key Developments in 2022

  • In April, an Angolan journalist reported that $20 million in investments routed through Angola in the 2010s went missing, implicating President Carlos Vila Nova, Independent Democratic Action (ADI) party leader Patrice Trovoada, and a former minister. In June, the attorney general called for a probe to determine why authorities did not pursue the matter in the past.
  • The opposition ADI won the September parliamentary elections, with Trovoada becoming prime minister in November. The elections were marred by allegations of irregularities, the electoral commission’s inability to quickly report provisional results, and disenfranchisement due to the commission’s inability to update the voter roll.
  • In late November, Prime Minister Trovoada said the government repelled an apparent coup attempt. Four suspects were killed; images depicting their apparent torture prompted the army chief of staff to resign in December. The government ordered an investigation into the incident.

PR Political Rights

A Electoral Process

A1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections? 4.004 4.004

The president is directly elected for up to two consecutive five-year terms. Executive elections are typically considered free and fair.

Carlos Vila Nova of ADI was elected president in September 2021, winning 57.5 percent of the vote in a delayed second round. The election was marred by irregularities, including allegations of first-round vote-counting errors. The Constitutional Court, meanwhile, issued multiple rulings in response to third-place candidate Delfim Nevès’s request before ultimately denying it. The second round was not affected by fraud allegations, and both domestic and international observers ultimately assessed the elections as largely free and fair.

The prime minister, who holds most day-to-day executive authority, is appointed by the president based on the results of legislative elections. Patrice Trovoada of ADI became prime minister in November 2022, after ADI won a majority in that September’s elections.

A2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections? 4.004 4.004

Members of the unicameral, 55-seat National Assembly are elected by popular vote to four-year terms. The opposition ADI won 30 seats in September 2022; ADI displaced the ruling Liberation of São Tomé and Príncipe–Social Democratic Party (MLSTP-PSD), which won 18. A coalition of the Movement of Independent Citizens/Socialist Party and the Party of National Unity won 5, while the Basta Movement won 2. Turnout stood at 65.4 percent.

The vote was marred by allegations of irregularities, including vote buying. Demonstrators blocked access to polling stations near a hospital in São Tomé to protest a lack of drinking water. The National Electoral Commission (CEN) took over a day to report provisional results and delegated the reporting of final results to the Constitutional Court; ADI supporters protested at CEN headquarters in response to the delay, burning tires. European Union (EU) observers called the polls themselves as “peaceful and orderly” but criticized the absence of campaign spending limits and “difficult enforcement of the ban on foreign funding.”

Local and regional elections, including for Príncipe’s regional assembly, were concurrently held with the parliamentary elections. ADI won most local seats under a new majoritarian system. The ruling Union for Change and Progress of Príncipe topped the regional polls there.

A3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies? 3.003 4.004

The electoral laws and framework are generally fair, but their implementation suffers from the lack of resources and staff. In May 2022, the Constitutional Court presented a new map for parliamentary districts ahead of the September elections, including the two seats for members of the diaspora.

In April 2022, ADI criticized the tardy seating of CEN members. EU observers reported that electoral-roll updates were not conducted ahead of the elections because of that delay, leading to significant disenfranchisement.

B Political Pluralism and Participation

B1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings? 4.004 4.004

The multiparty system features free and vigorous competition among political parties, though they are known to fracture. After the September 2022 elections, the Constitutional Court declared four parties that did not receive at least 0.5 percent of votes “extinct” per electoral law.

B2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections? 4.004 4.004

The MLSTP-PSD ruled São Tomé and Príncipe as a one-party state from independence in 1975 until 1991. Multiple democratic transfers of power have occurred since. Individual governments have tended to be short-lived, as a proportional-representation system encourages coalition or minority governments. However, the 2014–18 and 2018–22 governments completed full terms.

B3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means? 3.003 4.004

Voters and politicians are generally free from undue interference with their decisions. The practice of vote buying by political parties and candidates remains a problem. Military coups occurred in 1995 and 2003 but civilian rule was swiftly restored in both cases.

B4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities? 4.004 4.004

Women and minority groups enjoy full political rights. While women have made advances in the political sphere, societal discrimination and disparities in access to education inhibit women’s participation. In September 2022, the president signed a gender parity law establishing that women should hold 40 percent of decision-making posts at the national and regional levels; it took effect after that month’s elections.

Some 30 percent of elected positions should be held by women per the preexisting Political Party Law but only 14.5 percent of the parliament’s seats were won by women in September 2022. Four women were included in the 11-member cabinet announced in November; the new government also established the Ministry of Women’s Rights after taking power.

C Functioning of Government

C1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government? 4.004 4.004

The prime minister and cabinet determine policy under the supervision of the National Assembly and the president. They implement laws and policies without improper interference from unelected entities.

In April 2022, then prime minister Bom Jesus requested the dismissal of central bank governor Américo Barros, arguing that he had become politically active as a MLSTP-PSD presidential candidate. The president refused the request and was criticized by Bom Jesus for interfering with the government’s decision-making authority.

C2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective? 2.002 4.004

Corruption is a major problem. Oversight mechanisms, the opposition, and the media have repeatedly uncovered evidence of official malfeasance, sometimes resulting in dismissals and other repercussions. However, anticorruption laws are poorly enforced. In March 2022, President Vila Nova announced the creation of a committee of “wise men” to curb corruption.

In April 2022, an Angolan journalist reported that $20 million in investments routed through Angola and directed to São Tomé and Príncipe went unaccounted for after 2015. The journalist implicated Vila Nova, Trovoada, and a former minister. In June, Attorney General Kelve Nobre de Carvalho requested a new audit into why an inquiry into the matter had been closed.

C3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Does the government operate with openness and transparency? 3.003 4.004

The government generally does not restrict access to information about its operations. However, there is no specific law guaranteeing public access to government information. Officials rarely disclose their assets and income.

CL Civil Liberties

D Freedom of Expression and Belief

D1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are there free and independent media? 3.003 4.004

Freedom of the press is constitutionally guaranteed and largely respected in practice. Public media convey opposition views and grant some access to opposition leaders, but only a handful of private outlets are available, and a degree of self-censorship is reported at both public and private outlets. The public television, radio, and wire outlets are under the prime minister’s office.

There are no restrictions on online media, though the sector is poorly developed. Some 30 percent of the population has internet access, and the government is working to expand coverage.

D2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private? 4.004 4.004

The constitution provides for freedom of religion. Religious groups are required to register with the Justice Ministry and can face penalties for failing to do so, but the process is not reported to be biased or restrictive.

D3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination? 4.004 4.004

The constitution prohibits political indoctrination in education, and academic freedom is generally respected in practice. However, the quality of education is considered poor. Inequality in access to education and poor infrastructure are persistent problems.

D4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution? 4.004 4.004

There are no restrictions on freedom of expression, which is constitutionally guaranteed. The government is not known to engage in improper surveillance of personal communications or monitoring of online content. Social media is used to express private and political opinions.

E Associational and Organizational Rights

E1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there freedom of assembly? 4.004 4.004

The constitution protects freedom of assembly, which the government generally observes in practice. However, organizers are obliged to give authorities two days’ notice before public gatherings.

E2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work? 4.004 4.004

Nongovernmental organizations, including those focusing on human rights and governance issues, are free to operate. A lack of funding limits their activities.

E3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations? 3.003 4.004

Workers can legally organize, strike, and bargain collectively. These rights are mostly respected, though there are no provisions to regulate bargaining or punish antiunion practices by employers. Most union negotiations are conducted with the government, the country’s dominant formal-sector employer.

F Rule of Law

F1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there an independent judiciary? 3.003 4.004

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary. Courts are relatively autonomous in practice, but they are susceptible to political influence and corruption.

In 2020, the government launched a three-year modernization program of the justice system designed, in part, to bolster judicial and prosecutorial independence. That program is ongoing.

Judges have complained of the use of “discriminatory” criteria, including a seniority requirement, to fill Supreme Court of Justice vacancies in 2021. Judges held a strike days before the September 2022 elections, asking for better wages and workplace conditions.

F2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters? 3.003 4.004

Law enforcement authorities generally observe legal safeguards against arbitrary arrest and detention as well as guarantees for a fair trial, but police corruption is a problem, and indigent defendants are sometimes denied access to a lawyer. Nearly a third of prisoners are in pretrial detention, which can sometimes be lengthy.

F3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies? 3.003 4.004

Police are sometimes accused of physically attacking suspects during arrest. Prisons are known to suffer from overcrowding and other harsh conditions. In March 2022, the government opened a new prison wing constructed with UN support. In December, Justice Minister Ilza Amado Vaz warned that crime had increased in the country and conceded that prison conditions were inadequate.

In November 2022, Prime Minister Trovoada said that government forces repelled an apparent coup attempt after a group of fighters attacked a military barracks. Former presidential candidate Delfim Nevès was arrested for allegedly participating. Four suspects reportedly died in custody but images depicting the suspects’ apparent torture surfaced, prompting the December resignation of army chief of staff Olinto Paquete. The government ordered an investigation into the incident in December.

F4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population? 3.003 4.004

Equal treatment is legally guaranteed, but a degree of societal discrimination against women persists, hampering their access to economic and educational opportunities. Although same-sex sexual activity is not criminalized, discrimination against LGBT+ people is sometimes reported, and the law does not specifically address such bias.

G Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights

G1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education? 4.004 4.004

The constitution establishes the freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. The government generally respects these rights.

G2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors? 3.003 4.004

The legal framework and government policies are generally supportive of property rights and private business activity, though bureaucratic obstacles and corruption pose challenges in practice.

G3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance? 2.002 4.004

There are few formal restrictions on personal social freedoms. However, domestic violence is reportedly common and rarely prosecuted, and femicide and sexual violence remain concerns.

The minimum age for marriage with parental consent is 14 for girls and 16 for boys, as opposed to 18 without parental consent for both. Roughly a third of girls marry before age 18. Child sexual abuse is prevalent.

G4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation? 2.002 4.004

Forced labor is prohibited and child labor is restricted by law. There are also basic legal protections against exploitative or dangerous working conditions. However, the government lacks the capacity to enforce these rules effectively, particularly in the informal agricultural sector. The economy is heavily reliant on foreign aid.

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  • Global Freedom Score

    84 100 free