São Tomé and Príncipe | Freedom House

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São Tomé and Príncipe

São Tomé and Príncipe

Freedom in the World 2012

2012 Scores



Freedom Rating
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Civil Liberties
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Political Rights
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Former president Manuel Pinto da Costa won the August 2011 presidential election, defeating the ruling party’s candidate, Evaristo Carvalho, in a run-off vote. Meanwhile, the first international auction of oil explorations rights for the São Tomé Exclusive Economic Zone was held in May 2011.

São Tomé and Principe gained independence from Portugal in 1975. President Manuel Pinto da Costa’s Movement for the Liberation of São Tomé and Principe—later the Movement for the Liberation of São Tomé and Principe/Social Democratic Party (MLSTP-PSD)—was the only legal political party until a 1990 referendum established multiparty democracy. Former Prime Minister Miguel dos Anjos Trovoada 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-Liberal Party (MDFM-PL), in coalition with the Democratic Convergence Party (PCD), captured more seats than any other party in the 2006 parliamentary elections. While peaceful protesters had prevented thousands from voting in several parts of the country, a rerun for affected districts was subsequently held without incident. Negotiations on the formation of a new coalition government led to the appointment of a new prime minister, MDFM leader Tomé Soares da Vera Cruz. In the July presidential election, Menezes was chosen for a second term.

Following growing criticism over price increases and the handling of a police mutiny in 2007, the government collapsed twice in 2008. A new ruling coalition was formed in June with Joaquim Rafael Branco, leader of the MLSTP-PSD, as prime minister. The ADI refused to join, but the government gained a majority of seats in the National Assembly.

In the August 2010 parliamentary elections, the ADI captured 26 seats, followed by the MLSTP-PSD with 21 seats and the PCD with 7; the MDFM-PL captured only 1 seat. The Supreme Court validated the results, and ADI leader Patrice Trovoada was appointed prime minister.

After two unsuccessful electoral bids in 1996 and 2001, former president Pinto da Costa won the August 2011 presidential election. He defeated the ruling party’s candidate, Evaristo Carvalho, in a run-off election with 52.9 percent of the vote. Foreign observers deemed the highly contested elections credible and fair. Pinto da Costa has sought to quell fears about human rights violations during his previous 15-year authoritarian rule by vowing to respect the rights of São Toméans during his presidential term.

Large oil and natural gas deposits are thought to lie off the nation’s coast. The first international auction of oil explorations rights for the São Tomé Exclusive Economic Zone was held in May 2011; companies from the United States, Nigeria, and the British Virgin Islands were among those awarded rights. A 2001 agreement with Nigeria created the Joint Development Zone (JDZ), which provides São Tomé and Principe with 40 percent of oil and gas revenues. Corruption allegations have surrounded the process by which exploration blocks in the JDZ are awarded, and bonus funds intended for São Tomé’s oil account were allegedly transferred to a Nigerian bank in 2008.

São Tomé and Principe’s economy has seen steady growth since 2010 thanks to the expansion of trade and construction. However, according to the IMF, despite the substantial debt relief São Tomé and Principe has received, the country remains at high risk of falling back into debt distress because of its limited export and production base.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

São Tomé and Principe is an electoral democracy. The 2010 parliamentary elections were free and fair, as were the presidential elections in 2011. The president is elected for up to two five-year terms. Members of the unicameral, 55-seat National Assembly are elected by popular vote to four-year terms.

Development aid and potential oil wealth have fueled corruption among the ruling elite. In November 2010, the president was implicated in a scandal involving the sale of oil after the cabinet secretary declared that records of revenues from these sales could not be located in the Treasury. The state prosecutor began an investigation into the matter in December 2010 but announced in February 2011 that it would not be able to pursue the matter further due to immunity. The National Assembly removed the national audit office’s oversight of the sale of public property and goods in 2009. The office initiated trials against five former government officials charged with the misappropriation of social welfare money in late 2009, though Menezes pardoned 10 former officials imprisoned for embezzling food aid funds in January 2010. São Tomé and Principe was ranked 100 out of 183 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2011 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 also 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. In October 2011, the Union of State Workers threatened to paralyze the government if it did not respond to its demands, including a 400 percent wage increase; the 5,200 public workers are the largest workforce in Sao Tome and Principe. Although the government included a 21 percent wage increase in the 2012 budget, the union organized a general strike on November 28 and threated to hold an antigovernment protest the following day. The latter was cancelled after the government and the union returned to the negotiating table.

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.

The constitution provides equal rights for men and women, but women encounter discrimination in all sectors of society. Domestic violence is common and rarely prosecuted.