São Tomé and Príncipe | Page 23 | Freedom House

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São Tomé and Príncipe

São Tomé and Príncipe

Freedom in the World 2010

2010 Scores



Freedom Rating
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Civil Liberties
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Political Rights
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


An alleged coup plot involving individuals who briefly ousted President Fradique de Menezes in a 2003 coup was uncovered in February 2009, and the trial of suspected conspirators began in October. Regional and municipal elections scheduled for August were postponed until 2010, when they may coincide with parliamentary elections. Meanwhile, a series of political scandals surrounding development aid emerged during the year.

Sao Tome and Principe gained independence from Portugal in 1975. President Manuel Pinto da Costa’s Movement for the Liberation of Sao Tome and Principe (MLSTP)—later the Movement for the Liberation of Sao Tome and Principe/Social Democratic Party (MLSTP-PSD)—was the only legal political party until a 1990 referendum established multiparty democracy. Miguel dos Anjos Trovoada, a former prime minister, returned from exile and won the first democratic presidential election in 1991. He was reelected for a final term in 1996.
Fradique de Menezes, backed by Trovoada’s Independent Democratic Action (ADI) party, won the 2001 presidential election. In 2003, a group of military officers briefly ousted Menezes, but he was returned to power one week later.
The Force for Change Democratic Movement (MDFM), in coalition with the Democratic Convergence Party (PCD), took 23 of 55 seats in the 2006 parliamentary election. The MLSTP-PSD won 20 seats, while ADI took 11. Though peaceful, protesters prevented approximately 9,600 people from voting in 18 electoral districts. A rerun was held in April without incident. MDFM leader Tome Soares da Vera Cruz became prime minister while Menezes won a second term in the 2006 presidential election.
Following growing criticism over price increases and its handling of a police mutiny in late 2007, the government collapsed twice in 2008. A new ruling coalition was formed in June with Joaquim Rafael Branco, leader of the MLSTP-PSD, at the head. The ADI refused to join, but the government gained a majority in the National Assembly with 43 seats. Municipal and regional elections scheduled for August 2009 were postponed until 2010, and legislative elections were tentatively scheduled for March 2010.
An alleged coup plot was uncovered in February 2009 when authorities arrested 38 suspects, including six members of a small political party, the Christian Democratic Front (FDC), as well as individuals involved in the 2003 coup. Several suspects were released, but the trial of the remaining suspects, which began in October, resulted in two convictions, including a five-year prison sentence for the FDC leader for illegal weapons possession.

Large oil and natural gas deposits are thought to lie off the coast, though production is not expected before 2010. A 2001 agreement with Nigeria created the Joint Development Zone (JDZ), with Sao Tome and Principe receiving 40 percent of oil and gas revenues. The government planned to establish a national oil company in 2010 with assistance from Angola.Corruption allegations have surrounded the process by which exploration blocks in the JDZ are awarded, and bonus funds intended for Sao Tome’s oil account were allegedly transferred to a Nigerian bank in 2008. That same year, the country became an Extractive Industries and Transparency Initiative (EITI) candidate country. Despite its potential wealth, the country faces serious poverty. Sao Tome ranked 131 out of 182 countries in the 2009 UN Development Programme’s Human Development Report. In 2009, the local currency was pegged to the euro.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

Sao Tome and Principe is an electoral democracy. Presidential and parliamentary elections in 2006 were free and fair. The president is elected for a five-year term and can serve up to two consecutive terms. Members of the unicameral, 55-seat National Assembly are elected by popular vote to four-year terms. Four party blocs currently hold seats in the legislature, but a number of other parties exist.
Development aid and potential oil wealth have fueled growing corruption among members of the ruling elite. In March 2009, an investigation into misappropriation by the agency formerly responsible for administering aid funds resulted in prison sentences for the former director and treasurer. Separately, the director of the new agency responsible for managing aid came under suspicion in May for misappropriating food aid from Italy. Another scandal emerged in July after contaminated goods were imported under a Brazilian government credit line. Delfim Neves, the administrative director of the company involved in the scandal, is also the secretary-general of the PDC and was thus shielded by National Assembly immunity. In May, the national audit office accused the government of corruption following the National Assembly’s decision to remove the office’s oversight of the sale of public property and goods. In December, the national audit office also began the trial of five former government members charged with embezzling social welfare money. The country was ranked 111 out of 180 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2009 Corruption Perceptions Index.
Freedom of expression is guaranteed and respected. 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. Residents have access to foreign broadcasters. Internet access is not restricted, though a lack of infrastructure limits penetration.
Freedom of religion is respected within this predominantly Roman Catholic country. The government does not restrict academic freedom.
Freedoms of assembly and association are respected. Citizens have the constitutional right to demonstrate with two days’ advance notice to the government. Workers’ rights to organize, strike, and bargain collectively are guaranteed and respected.
The judiciary is independent, though occasionally subject to manipulation. The Supreme Court has ruled in the past against both the government and the president. The court system is understaffed and inadequately funded. Prison conditions are harsh.
There is societal discrimination against homosexuals. While testing is free and antiretroviral drugs available, persons with HIV/AIDS have been shunned by their communities and families.
The constitution provides equal rights for men and women, but women encounter discrimination in all sectors. Women have been appointed to cabinet positions, including the premiership. Currently, two women serve in the 55-seat National Assembly. Domestic violence is common and rarely prosecuted.