Freedom in the World 2003 - Sao Tome and Principe

Polity: Presidential-parliamentary democracy
Population: 200,000
GNI/Capita: $1,792
Life Expectancy: 65
Religious Groups: Roman Catholic, Evangelical Protestant, Seventh-Day Adventist
Ethnic Groups: Mestico [Portuguese-African], African minority (Angolan, Mozambican, immigrants)
Capital: São Tomé

Political Rights Score: 1
Civil Liberties Score: 2
Status: Free


After a year adrift, the government of President Fradique de Menezes appeared to be on course by the end of 2002. De Menezes dissolved the government in 2001 and called for early parliamentary elections after he and the former prime minister disagreed on the government's composition. The elections produced a narrow majority for the opposition Movement for the Liberation of Sao Tome and Principe (MLSTP), which held the majority in the outgoing parliament. It was a blow to De Menezes. The president dissolved the government again in September 2002 after differences emerged in the military over promotions that had been granted. De Menezes appointed a new prime minister, the economist Maria das Neves, who formed a coalition government and is the country's first female prime minister.

Sao Tome and Principe consist of two islands approximately 125 and 275 miles off the coast of Gabon in the Gulf of Guinea. Seized by Portugal in 1522 and 1523, they became a Portuguese Overseas Province in 1951. Portugal granted local autonomy in 1973 and independence in 1975. Upon independence, the MLSTP, formed in 1960 as the Committee for the Liberation of Sao Tome and Principe, took power and functioned as the only legal party until a 1990 referendum established multiparty democracy. In 1991, Miguel dos Anjos Trovoada, an independent candidate backed by the opposition Democratic Convergence Party, became the first democratically elected president.

During 2002, Sao Tome and Principe was in the process of building up its relationship with the United States, which plans to build a sheltering port on the archipelago for the U.S. Navy to patrol waters surrounding the country and protect its oil resources there. The U.S. assistant secretary of state for African affairs, Walter Kansteiner, visited Sao Tome and Principe in October 2002.

Sao Tome and Principe has mostly relied on external assistance to develop its economy. Unemployment is about 45 percent. The government is trying to reduce the country's dependence on cocoa and diversify its economy. Efforts are underway to pursue development of offshore petroleum reserves.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties

The people of Sao Tome and Principe have the right to change their government freely and fairly. Presidential and legislative elections in 1991 gave the country's citizens their first chance to elect their leader in an open, free, and fair contest. In presidential elections in 2001, Fradique de Menezes, of the Independent Democratic Alliance (ADI), replaced Miguel dos Anjos Trovoada, who had ruled Sao Tome and Principe for 10 years. In the first round of voting, De Menezes won with 56 percent compared with 38 percent for Manuel Pinto da Costa, of the Movement for the Liberation of Sao Tome and Principe (MLSTP).

The MLSTP won 24 seats in parliamentary elections in March 2002. The Democratic Movement of Forces for Change won 23 seats. The remaining 8 seats went to the Ue Kadadji coalition. De Menezes called on parliament to introduce laws against vote buying, which he said was rampant in the March parliamentary election. Nevertheless, international observers had declared the polls to be free and fair.

An independent judiciary, including a supreme court with members designated by, and responsible to, the National Assembly, was established by the 1990 referendum on multiparty rule. It has ruled against both the government and the president, but is occasionally subject to manipulation. The court system is overburdened, understaffed, inadequately funded, and plagued by long delays in hearing cases. Prison conditions are harsh.

Constitutionally protected freedom of expression is respected in practice. One state-run and six independent newspapers and newsletters are published. 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.

Freedom of assembly is respected. Citizens have the constitutional right to gather and demonstrate with advance notice to the government of two days. Freedom of religion is respected within this predominantly Roman Catholic country. The constitution provides for equal rights for men and women, but women encounter significant societal discrimination. Most have fewer opportunites than men for education or formal (business) sector employment. However, several women have been appointed to cabinet positions, including that of prime minister. Domestic violence against women is reportedly common. Although legal recourse is available, many victims are reluctant to bring legal action against their spouses or are ignorant of their rights.

The rights to organize, strike, and bargain collectively are guaranteed and respected. Few unions exist, but independent cooperatives have taken advantage of the government land-distribution program to attract workers. Because of its role as the main employer in the wage sector, the government remains the key interlocutor for labor on all matters, including wages. Working conditions on many of the state-owned cocoa plantations are harsh.

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