Freedom in the World
São Tomé and Príncipe
Freedom Rating (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Civil Liberties (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Political Rights (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Tensions between Prime Minister Patrice Trovoada and the opposition grew during 2012, resulting in a no-confidence vote against Trovoada and President Pinto da Costa’s decision to dissolve the government on December 4. The president invited the party that had placed second in the 2010 legislative elections to form a new government, and Gabriel da Costa assumed office as the new prime minister on December 10.
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.
On November 29, 2012, the parliament passed a vote of no confidence in the government of Prime Minister Trovoada while the members of the ruling ADI were not present. The ADI described the action as illegal and organized public demonstrations calling for early elections. President Pinto da Costa urged the parties to reconcile, but after several failed meetings, he formally dissolved the Trovoada-led government on December 4. Pinto da Costa gave the ADI 24 hours to appoint a leader to form the new government. The ADI rejected the timeline as too brief and insisted on Trovoada’s reinstatement and the holding of early elections. The president responded by inviting the party that had received the second largest number of votes in the 2010 legislative election—the MLSTP-PSD—to head a new government. On December 10, the president announced that he had accepted the MLSTP-PSD’s candidate, Gabriel Ferreiro da Costa, who appointed all of his cabinet members on December 22.
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. President Manuel Pinto da Costa named 2012 the year of anticorruption. In September, a new anticorruption law came into force. Shortly thereafter, the Public Integrity Center was established with the support of Transparency International, the United Nations, and the U.S. Embassy. The main goal of this nongovernmental organization is to mobilize public opinion and promote good governance, transparency, and honesty. São Tomé and Principe was ranked 72 out of 176 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2012 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.
The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, though it is susceptible to political influence, and is understaffed and inadequately funded. The Supreme Court has ruled in the past against both the government and the president. However, in August 2012, the court cited lack of evidence for dismissing corruption charges against three businessmen involved in the controversial STP Trading case, which involved government officials. The decision was contested by the attorney general but confirmed in November by the Supreme Court. The country’s one prison is overcrowded, and inmates suffer from inadequate food and medical care.
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.