São Tomé and Príncipe 2011
The first round of presidential elections were held in São Tomé and Príncipe on July 17. São Tomé and Príncipe, the second-smallest country in Africa, is a poor insular island nation in the Gulf of Guinea. Composed primarily of two islands, of which São Tomé is the largest, the country gained its independence from Portugal in 1976.
São Tomé and Príncipe is largely dependent on agriculture, notably cocoa production. A downturn in cocoa prices in the 1990s compounded with structural problems ruined the country, which is unhealthily reliant on imports to survive because domestic food production is inadequate. Roughly 54% of the population lives under the poverty line. The country qualifies for the IMF’s HIPC initiative.
A former Portuguese colony, São Tomé and Príncipe gained independence in 1975 under the leadership of the left-wing nationalist Movement for the Liberation of São Tomé and Príncipe (MLSTP), founded in Gabon in the 1960s. The MLSTP’s boss, East German-educated Manuel Pinto da Costa became the country’s first President in 1975 and proceeded to setup a socialist one-party state led by the MLSTP which lasted until democratic reforms started in 1988 culminated in free elections in 1991. Miguel Trovoada, a former ally of Pinto da Costa who had broken with him in 1979, was elected president in 1991 and reelected in 1996 when he defeated Pinto da Costa with 52.7% in a runoff election. The MLSTP, which had been defeated in legislative elections in 1991, won back control of the legislature in 1994. Fradique de Menezes, running for Trovoada’s Independent Democratic Action (ADI) party was elected president in 2001, again defeating Pinto da Costa. Since democracy, the island country has seen 18 prime ministers and a number of failed coup attempts of which the most important one was a 2003 coup which lasted for roughly a week. Fradique de Menezes’ Force for Change Democratic Movement (MDFM) in coalition with the right-wing Democratic Convergence Party (PCD) won legislative elections in 2006. Some sort of instability ensued, with the MDFM, ADI (now led by Miguel’s son Patrice) and MLSTP-PSD each forming governments between 2006 and 2010, when the ADI won the legislative elections winning 26 seats to the MLSTP’s 21 (the PCD took 7, the president’s MDFM won only one). Despite all these economic, social and political challenges, São Tomé and Príncipe is a surprisingly strong democracy with Freedom House ratings of ‘2’.
Fradique de Menezes is term-limited this year. The main contenders were former dictator Manuel Pinto da Costa, now running as an independent; former PM and speaker of the legislature Evaristo Carvalho for the ADI; former PM Maria das Neves (another ex-MLSTP independent ); the PCD/MDFM’s Delfim Neves (a strong critic of Prime Minister Patrice Trovoada); independent Elsa Pinto and finally the MLSTP leader Aurélio Martins. Turnout was 66%, which is roughly average for presidential elections. Three villages (roughly 5000 people) boycotted the election in protest at poor living conditions, but no re-vote will be held there.
Manuel Pinto da Costa (ind ex-MLSTP) 35.82%
Evaristo Carvalho (ADI) 21.82%
Maria das Neves (ind ex-MLSTP) 14.03%
Delfim Neves (PCD-GR) 13.89%
Elsa Pinto (ind) 4.55%
Aurélio Martins (MLSTP-PSD) 4.15%
Filinto Costa Alegre (ind) 4.14%
Jorge Coelho (ind) 0.64%
Hélder Barros (ind) 0.63%
Manuel de Deus Lima (ind) 0.35%
These results are provisional.
The runoff, scheduled for August 7, will oppose Pinto da Costa with Carvalho, who is the candidate backed by Prime Minister Patrice Trovoada. Pinto da Costa must be the favourite going into the runoff, having received the support of Delfim Neves and Aurélio Martins. Some observers are concerned by the prospect of a new term for Pinto da Costa, whose alarming human rights record as president sparks fears that his return to power could mark the start of a new authoritarian era. It is hardly encouraging that Pinto da Costa denies that there was any persecution during his regime.