São Tomé and Príncipe | Freedom House

Freedom in the World

São Tomé and Príncipe

São Tomé and Príncipe

Freedom in the World 2002

2002 Scores



Freedom Rating
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Civil Liberties
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Political Rights
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Political tension was high in São Tomé and Príncipe following the election of incumbent party candidate Fradique de Menezes as president in July 2001, his subsequent dissolution of the cabinet, and a call for early legislative elections in 2002. De Menezes, of the Independent Democratic Alliance (ADI) party, replaced Miguel dos Anjos Trovoada, who had ruled São Tomé and Príncipe for ten years. In the first round of voting, De Menezes won with 56 percent compared with 38 percent for Manuel Pinto da Costa, of the Movement for the Liberation of São Tomé and Príncipe Social Democratic Party (MLSTP-PSD). De Menezes dissolved the cabinet after he and Prime Minister Guilherme Posser da Costa failed to agree on its composition. De Menezes then formed a cabinet that excluded members of the parliamentary majority MLSTP. Then, to unblock the political stalemate, De Menezes called for early legislative elections, moving them up from October 2002 to early in the year, hoping the polls would produce an ADI majority.

São Tomé and Príncipe comprises two islands approximately 125 miles off the coast of Gabon in the Gulf of Guinea. Seized by Portugal in 1522 and 1523, they became a Portuguese Overseas Province in 1951. Portugal granted local autonomy in 1973 and independence in 1975. Upon independence, the MLSTP-PSD, formed in 1960 as the Committee for the Liberation of São Tomé and Príncipe, took power, and functioned as the only legal party until a 1990 referendum established multiparty democracy. In 1991, Trovoada, an independent candidate backed by the opposition Democratic Convergence Party, became the first democratically elected president.

Parliamentary elections held in November 1998 gave the MLSTP-PSD an absolute majority. The balloting, which was conducted by an autonomous electoral commission, enabled the party to regain, democratically, the power that it had exercised for 16 years as the sole legal party before the country?s democratic transition in 1992.

São Tomé and Príncipe has mostly relied on external assistance to develop its economy. The government is trying to reduce the country?s dependence on cocoa and diversify its economy. Efforts are under way to pursue offshore petroleum.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

The people of São Tomé and Príncipe have the right to change their government freely and fairly. Presidential and legislative elections in 1991 gave the country's citizens their first chance to elect their leaders in an open, free, and fair contest. Legislative elections in 1994 were generally free and fair. In the November 1998 contest, the MLSTP-PSD won 31 of the 55 seats in the unicameral national assembly. The ADI won 16 seats.

Trovoada had won a second five-year term in July 1996 after receiving 53 percent of the approximately 40,000 votes cast in a runoff election. Despite numerous allegations of vote buying and other irregularities, international observers declared the results free and fair. The July 2002 elections were considered free and fair despite some logistical problems.

An independent judiciary, including a supreme court with members designated by and responsible to the national assembly, was established by the August 1990 referendum on multiparty rule. It has ruled against both the government and the president. The court system is overburdened, understaffed, inadequately funded, and plagued by long delays in hearing cases. Prison conditions are harsh.

Constitutionally protected freedom of expression is respected in practice. One staterun and six independent newspapers are published. While the state controls a local press agency and the only radio and television stations, no law forbids independent broadcasting. Opposition parties receive free airtime, and newsletters and pamphlets criticizing the government circulate freely.

Freedom of assembly is respected. Citizens have the constitutional right to gather and demonstrate with advance notice of two days. Freedom of religion is respected within this predominantly Roman Catholic country. The constitution provides for equal rights for women, but they hold few leadership positions and encounter significant societal discrimination. Most occupy domestic roles and have less opportunity than men for education or formal sector employment. Domestic violence against women is reportedly common. Although legal recourse is available, many are reluctant to bring legal action against their spouses or are ignorant of their rights.

The rights to organize, strike, and bargain collectively are guaranteed and respected. Few unions exist, but independent cooperatives have taken advantage of the government land distribution program to attract workers. Because of its role as the main employer in the wage sector, the government remains the key interlocutor for labor on all matters, including wages. Working conditions on many of the state-owned cocoa plantations are harsh.