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)
In October 2014, the country held simultaneous elections on the municipal, regional, and national levels. Of the 13 parties that participated in the elections, the Independent Democratic Action party (ADI) emerged as the winner, expanding its presence both in the National Assembly and at the local level. The Movement for the Liberation of São Tomé and Príncipe–Social Democratic Party (MLSTP-PSD) and the Democratic Convergence–Reflection Group (PCD-GR) sustained significant losses.
The country’s economy continued to grow but remained dependent on international aid.
Political Rights: 34 / 40 [Key]
A. Electoral Process: 11 / 12
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.
Former strongman Manuel Pinto da Costa, who ruled São Tomé and Príncipe for the first 15 years after independence, won the 2011 presidential election as an independent candidate. He defeated the incumbent ADI party’s Evaristo Carvalho in a run-off election with 52.9 percent of the vote. Foreign observers deemed the elections credible and fair.
Simultaneous national, regional, and municipal elections took place in October 2014. The ADI, led by former prime minister Patrice Trovoada, secured a decisive victory in elections to the National Assembly, taking 33 of 55 seats. The MLSTP-PSD took 16 sears, the PCD-GR captured 5 seats, and Union of Democrats for Citizenship and Development secured one seat. Trovoada became prime minister in November. International observers deemed the national elections to be transparent, fair, and free.
ADI was less successful in regional elections, particularly in the autonomous Príncipe region, where the Union for Change and Progress in Príncipe (UMPP) won 5 seats and MLSTP-PSD took 2. At the local level, MLSTP-PSD lost majority control of the Lembá, Cantagalo, and Lobata municipalities, while ADI’s position in Água Grande and Mé-zochi grew stronger. Caué remained in the hands of MLSTP-PSD. Election results were upheld despite calls by the National Platform for Development (PND) party for a second vote due to voter boycotts in the Lembá, Cantagalo, and Caué districts. The Constitutional Court upheld a decision by the National Electoral Commission that a boycott is not grounds to repeat elections.
A number of changes marked the electoral landscape in 2014. In February, the National Assembly passed a law to combat banho, or vote-buying, a common electoral practice in São Tomé and Príncipe. The 2014 legislative elections also marked the first time that a benchmark for 30 percent female participation in the National Assembly was implemented.
B. Political Pluralism and Participation: 14 / 16
The multiparty system features vigorous competition between the ADI, the MLSTP-PSD, the PCD-GR, and other parties. Though political parties are free to operate, opposition leaders have reported political pressure and persecution. In June 2014, Trovoada filed a complaint at the International Criminal Court, citing persecution of ADI members and supporters by government officials.
In March, Pinto da Costa launched the National Dialogue, an initiative he had proposed in 2013 to bring together nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), communities, and political parties—except ADI—to discuss key issues affecting the country. The dialogue took place in provincial centers and culminated in a national meeting, in which participants issued a list of recommendations for reform.
Immigrants comprise a small percentage of the population and do not participate in elections. In March 2014, the president of the regional government of Príncipe voiced support for granting political rights to Cape Verdeans, an immigrant group that makes up more than 50 percent of all foreigners living in São Tomé and Príncipe.
C. Functioning of Government: 9 / 12
There have been some efforts in recent years to improve transparency and curb abuse of office. In 2013, following pressure from international donors, the National Assembly approved a law to prevent and fight money laundering. Nevertheless, corruption remains a major problem.
In January 2014, the country’s minister of health and social affairs was dismissed after revelations that he had issued government funds for use by himself and by members of his family. Also in January, Pinto da Costa issued a decree that called for reshuffling the government, allegedly in an effort to combat abuses. The president replaced the minister for public works, infrastructure, and natural resources, and created two new positions—a minister of tourism, commerce and industry as well as a state secretary for public works, infrastructure, and natural resources.
São Tomé and Príncipe was ranked 76 out of 175 countries in Transparency International’s 2014 Corruption Perceptions Index.
Civil Liberties: 47 / 60
D. Freedom of Expression and Belief: 15 / 16
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 broadcasts. 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. However, although the government has identified education as a top priority, limited funds and poor training undermine the quality of teaching.
E. Associational and Organizational Rights: 10 / 12
Freedoms of assembly and association are respected, and citizens have the constitutional right to demonstrate with two days’ notice to officials. NGOs are free to operate, but the effectiveness of domestic organizations is limited by lack of funding.
Workers’ rights to organize, strike, and bargain collectively are guaranteed and respected. In February 2014, approximately 300 military officers went on strike to demand better wages and living conditions.
F. Rule of Law: 12 / 16
The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, though it is susceptible to political influence and is understaffed and underfunded. Reform of the judiciary was the focus of one of the recommendations stemming from the National Dialogue in March 2014. Inmates in the country’s one prison suffer from poor living conditions, though authorities alleviated overcrowding in 2014 by opening new sections of the facility.
According to the minister of foreign affairs, cooperation, and communities, at least 90 kidnappings by armed individuals were recorded by September 2014. On multiple occasions in 2014, security forces apprehended ships in São Toméan waters conducting illicit activities, including trafficking illegal narcotics. To improve the system of criminal justice, the government has reached an arrangement with Brazilian authorities by which 30 members of São Tomé and Príncipe’s Criminal Investigation Police will receive training from Brazilian federal police; the arrangement was made possible by an existing bilateral cooperation agreement.
In February 2014, striking military officers refused to report for duty in the presidential guard. Following the incident, Pinto da Costa convened meetings with military leaders and appointed a new chief of staff of the armed forces. In May, the government announced plans to improve military salaries and pay subsidies owed to soldiers. Failed attempts to stage military coups in 1995 and 2003 were linked to the military’s discontent with living conditions.
Although there are no legal restrictions on same-sex sexual activity, same-sex relationships are generally hidden due to discrimination.
G. Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights: 10 / 16
While São Toméans are free to travel and seek employment, they have limited access to secondary and higher education.
São Tomé and Príncipe is one of the smallest economies in Africa and extremely dependent on international aid, with the majority of its budget financed by donors. Economic activity is growing, but bureaucracy and corruption pose challenges to the process of establishing private businesses. Access to economic opportunities is also uneven.
Following the October 2014 elections, there were 10 women in the National Assembly, and one woman held a cabinet position. 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.
X = Score Received
Y = Best Possible Score
Z = Change from Previous Year