Last Updated: Tuesday, 12 December 2017, 12:58 GMT

Freedom in the World 2011 - São Tomé and Principe

Publisher Freedom House
Publication Date 8 August 2011
Cite as Freedom House, Freedom in the World 2011 - São Tomé and Principe, 8 August 2011, available at: [accessed 13 December 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Capital: São Tomé
Population: 160,000

Political Rights Score: 2 *
Civil Liberties Score: 2 *
Status: Free


The ruling Liberation of São Tomé and Principe/Social Democratic Party won regional and municipal elections held in July 2010, while the opposition Independent Democratic Action (ADI) party captured the most seats in the August parliamentary elections. ADI leader Patrice Trovoada was appointed prime minister, though his party did not hold an absolute majority in the National Assembly. In January, President Fradique de Menezes pardoned one of the two people convicted in connection to an alleged coup plot uncovered in February 2009.

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 election. 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 elections, Menezes was reelected to 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.

Eighteen individuals were brought to trial in October 2009 for their involvement in an alleged coup plot uncovered in February. Two of the defendants were convicted on charges of illegal weapons possession, including Arlecio Costa, the leader of the Christian Democratic Front, an opposition party. Costa received a five-year prison sentence, but was pardoned by the president in January 2010.

The MLSTP-PSD won regional and municipal elections held in July 2010, though the opposition ADI gained control over two of the largest districts. In the August parliamentary elections, the ADI received 43 percent of the vote and captured 26 seats. The MLSTP-PSD won 21 seats and the PCD took 7, while the president's MDFM-PL captured only 1 seat. Approximately 90 percent of the nearly 80,000 registered voters cast ballots. The Supreme Court validated the results and ADI leader Patrice Trovoada was appointed prime minister.

Large oil and natural gas deposits are thought to lie off the nation's coast. 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. However, 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. Despite its potential wealth, the country faces serious poverty; São Tomé and Principe ranked 127 out of 169 countries in the 2010 UN Development Programme's Human Development Report. Donor aid constitutes almost 80 percent of the country's revenue.

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 and parliamentary elections in 2006. 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. Four party blocs currently hold seats in the legislature, but a number of other parties exist.

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 records of revenues from these sales in the Treasury could not be located. The state prosecutor began an investigation into the matter in December 2010. 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 101 out of 178 countries surveyed in Transparency International's 2010 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. During 2010, strikes were held by workers at the national television station, the airport, and the national water and electric company.

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 are 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, 10 women serve in the 55-seat National Assembly. Domestic violence is common and rarely prosecuted.

* Countries are ranked on a scale of 1-7, with 1 representing the highest level of freedom and 7 representing the lowest level of freedom.

Copyright notice: © Freedom House, Inc. · All Rights Reserved

Search Refworld