Category Archives: São Tomé and Príncipe

Gerhard Seibert – São Tomé and Príncipe: presidential elections put an end to 25-year period of cohabitation

This is a guest post by Gerhard Seibert from UNILAB, Bahia, Brazil

On 7 August 2016, Evaristo Carvalho, candidate of the ruling Acção Democrática Independente (ADI) was elected president of São Tomé and Príncipe, Africa’s second smallest country and one of the very few African states with a semi-presidential system.  For the first time in the country’s 25-year democratic history the candidate of the ruling party won the elections. However, unlike earlier elections in the small archipelago for the first time the elections were marked by accusations of irregularities that culminated in the refusal of the incumbent President Manuel Pinto da Costa, the second most voted candidate, to participate in the final ballot.  President Carvalho is not expected to rigorously monitor or even complicate the government’s actions, since he is widely considered a proxy of Prime Minister Patrice Trovoada.

Such harmony between government and president is unprecedented in São Tomé and Príncipe, because in the previous five presidential elections the electorate has always preferred the cohabitation between the two office holders. A somewhat different situation only occurred in the free first presidential elections in 1991 when Miguel Trovoada, Patrice’s father, was elected unopposed president with the support of the Partido da Convergência Democrática (PCD), which had won the preceding legislative elections.  However, President Miguel Trovoada (1991-2001) was not from the PCD and from the beginning his period of office was marked by fierce conflicts with the PCD government.  In 2006, the Movimento Democrático Força de Mudança (MDFM), the party close to President Fradique de Menezes (2001-2011), won the legislative elections in an alliance with the PCD, but the MDFM-PCD minority government headed by the leader of the MDFM soon entered into disagreements with Menezes and eventually was ousted after ten months in office.  Such short-lived governments have been the rule in the archipelago, which has had 17 different governments since 1991.

The political instability has been provoked by conflicts between government and president and the existence of three or four principal parties, which due to the system of proportional representation impeded absolute majorities and made necessary weak coalition governments or minority governments. President Trovoada and President Menezes sacked two and three prime ministers respectively.  In order to impede the president to easily dismiss the prime minister, in 2003 the National Assembly adopted a constitutional revision to reduce the powers of the president in favour of those of parliament.  Under the amendments that came into effect in 2006, the president can only dismiss the prime minister under particular circumstances and only after having consulted a newly created State Council.

The principal contenders of this year’s presidential elections were the same as in 2011. Besides Carvalho they were President Pinto da Costa and Maria das Neves, a former prime minister (2001-2004). Carvalho aged 74 belongs to the same old generation of post-independence politicians as 79-year old Pinto da Costa, while 58-year old Neves represents a younger political generation that assumed higher offices after the democratization process. Carvalho was already government minister in the late 1970s and caretaker prime minister in 1994 and 2001 after President Trovoada and President Menezes respectively had dismissed the government. As in 2011, Pinto da Costa and Neves, who are both from the main opposition party Movimento de Libertação de São Tomé and Principe/Partido Social Democrata (MLSTP/PSD), ran as independents. Pinto da Costa was the country’s first president under the socialist one-party regime (1975-1990) and leader of the socialist-minded MLSTP (1972-1990) and the MLSTP/PSD (1998-2005), while Neves is a prominent parliamentarian of the MLSTP/PSD.[1]  In 2011 Pinto da Costa defeated Carvalho in the final ballot with 52.9% against 41.7% of the votes, while Neves was as the fourth most voted candidate with 14.0% of the ballots. At the time, the country was ruled by a minority government of the ADI headed by Patrice Trovoada, who had won the 2010 elections with 43.1%. Despite massive support by Trovoada and the ADI, in 2011 Carvalho failed to get elected president.

In November 2012, Trovoada was removed from office by a motion of non-confidence supported by the opposition parties MLSTP/PCD, PCD and MDFM that formed a new government. At the time Trovoada accused Pinto da Costa of having waged a constitutional coup against him. Moreover, immediately after his dismissal, allegedly persecuted by his political adversaries he left for voluntary exile in Portugal. From there he only returned to São Tomé during the campaign of the legislative elections in October 2014. Surprisingly Trovoada’s  ADI won the elections with an absolute majority of 33 seats in the 55-member National Assembly, while the other three parties all lost seats. After Trovoada’s return as head of government his relation with President Pinto da Costa was marked by mutual avoidance rather than by conflict. Nevertheless Trovoada, whose term ends in 2018, was determined to frustrate his re-election to avoid any future problems with Pinto da Costa.

Trovoada’s difficult relationship with Pinto da Costa goes back to 1979 when his father Miguel, once a close friend of Pinto da Costa and prime minister at the time, was imprisoned under accusations of having conspired to oust Pinto da Costa from office. He remained in custody without charge and trial until 1981 when President Pinto da Costa allowed him to leave for exile in Paris. Miguel Trovoada only returned from exile during the democratic transition in 1990 to run for the presidency as independent candidate of the opposition. The popular support which Trovoada enjoyed at the time prompted Pinto da Costa to relinquish his scheduled candidacy for the first free presidential elections in 1991. Thereafter Pinto da Costa ran two times for the presidency as candidate of the MLSTP/PSD, but in vain. In 1996 he was defeated in the second round by the incumbent Miguel Trovoada and in 2001 he lost against Menezes, at the time selected by the Trovoadas as official candidate of the ADI.

The ADI first appeared in 1992 when due to the increasing conflict between President Trovoada and the ruling PCD his followers left this party and constituted their own one. Consequently, from the beginning, the party has been associated with the personal and political interests of Miguel Trovoada. However, he never formally assumed the party leadership, as under the country’s semi-presidential constitution the president cannot participate in active party politics. When Miguel left the presidency after two consecutive five-year terms in 2001, he imposed his son Patrice as party leader. This decision prompted the then ADI leadership to abandon the party. Contrary to the MLSTP/PSD and the PCP, which have always experienced a considerable degree of intra-party democracy, the ADI has been ruled autocratically by Patrice Trovoada. It is highly unlikely that his personal party leadership would be challenged by a rival candidate. In fact, the party is run as his personal enterprise and is unthinkable without him. Nevertheless, after vote losses in the 2002 legislative elections, the ADI has considerably increased its votes from 20% in 2006 to 50.5% in 2014. Following the PCD in 1991 and the MLSTP/PSD in 1998, it has been the third party to win an absolute majority. However, contrary to the other two majority governments, the ADI government will be the first one since 1991 to reach the end of the four-year term, since thanks to the constitutional revision the president was no longer able to get rid of it.

Altogether the ballots of 111,222 registered voters were at stake in the presidential elections on 17 July. When Neves announced her independent candidacy in last April, MLSTP/PSD leader Aurélio Martins, an opponent of Pinto da Costa, immediately declared his party’s support for her. At the same time, he advised the incumbent not to run for his reelection, since his twenty-year presidency had been enough.  Regardless of Martins’ appeal, Pinto da Costa soon declared to stand for a second term. Two independent candidates from the MLSTP favoured Carvalho, whose campaign also benefitted from the comparatively wealthy ADI, a relevant factor in an impoverished country, where vote-buying has increasingly become integral part of the electoral process.  One day after the elections, the National Electoral Commission (CEN) announced the preliminary results, according to which Carvalho had been elected with 50.1%, whereas Pinto da Costa and Neves had obtained only 24.8% and 24.1% of the votes.

Two days after the elections, Pinto da Costa and Neves jointly appealed to the Constitutional Court to declare the elections null and void due to grave irregularities that supposedly occurred during the process. Following the recount of votes in several polling stations, on 21 July, CEN president Alberto Pereira published a new communiqué that provisionally none of the candidates had obtained more than half of the valid votes, which would make possible a run-off.  In response, Pinto da Costa, Neves and the opposition parties MLSTP/PSD and PCD asked for the immediate dismissal of Pereira and the entire CEN, whom they accused of a lack of impartiality and of having committed irregularities. Pinto da Costa declared that he would not participate in the run-off, if the CEN would not be dismissed. He explained that to continue participating in such a vicious electoral process would mean to approve it. Later Carvalho accused Pinto da Costa of having refused the run-off to avoid electoral defeat. However this may be, it was in for the first time in the country’s 25-year old democratic history that candidates refused to recognize the election results due to supposed irregularities.

On 26 July the Supreme Court announced the final elections results: Evaristo Carvalho, 34,522 votes (49,8%); Manuel Pinto da Costa, 17,188 votes (24,8%) and Maria das Neves 16,828 votes (24,3%). Two days later, the Constitutional Court rejected the joint appeal of Pinto da Costa and Neves as inadmissible, as the legislation would not support the joint impeachment of a process ruled by uninominal suffrage and because the complainers had not denounced any irregularity detected within the polling stations.   On 7 August, Carvalho won the final ballot unopposed with 81.6% of the votes cast.  He obtained 7,278 votes more than in the first round. The turnout was only 46%, considerably less than the 64.3% on 17 July. The fact that the ADI candidate succeeded in increasing his votes suggests that part of the electorate remained at least indifferent with regard to the accusations of vote rigging.  Carvalho’s election as president marks a crucial change in electoral behavior, since in all other presidential elections the majority of the electorate avoided a situation where the same party controlled both the government and the presidency. This time appeals not to vote for Carvalho to impede Prime Minister Trovoada’s absolute power were clearly ignored by a slim majority.

In mid-August, Neves lodged another complaint against the electoral process in the Constitutional Court arguing that after Pinto da Costa’s withdrawal the CEN had failed to call her as third most voted candidate to participate in the final ballot, as fixed in the country’s electoral legislation. Most probably the judges will reject her appeal since Pinto da Costa had announced his withdrawal after the two-day deadline established by law. Contrary to Neves, Pinto da Costa has come to terms with Carvalho’s election, since despite fears that he might boycott the latter’s inauguration on 3 September, he duly appeared at the ceremony. In contrast, the opposition parties MLSTP/PSD and PCD boycotted Carvalho’s swearing-in ceremony in protest against the alleged irregularities.

The accusations of electoral fraud have seriously damaged the country’s reputation as a model of democracy in Africa. President Carvalho and Prime Minister Trovoada are likely to uphold the image of an unprecedented political stability to mitigate the damage to the credibility of the country’s democracy.  Due to Carvalho’s election São Tomé and Príncipe has become a de facto one-party state ruled by Trovoada’s ADI. It remains to be seen if under the new situation the country will remain an example of tolerance and peaceful political competition or will become increasingly autocratically ruled by a powerful prime minister. Many of Trovoada’s opponents already fear the latter to occur.


[1] The former sole ruling party was renamed in 1990 when it dropped the socialist orientation.

São Tomé and Principe – Election Commission annuls election results, opens door to second round vote

Initial election results indicated that Evaristo Carvalho, candidate of the ruling ADI party, won the presidential election held on 17 July. Carvalho defeated incumbent President Pinto da Costa. Yet, on 22 July, the Election Commission (CEN) cancelled the election results. The Constitutional Court has recently decided that a second round of voting will take place on 7 August.

According to provisional data, Carvalho won 50.1% (34,629) of the votes, incumbent President Manuel Pinto da Costa who ran as an independent garnered 24.8% (17.121), and Maria das Neves of the Movement for the Liberation of São Tomé and Príncipe/Social Democratic Party (MSTP-PSD) managed to win 24.1% (16,638). Two other candidates, Hélder Barros and Manuel do Rosário, won 0.3% (194) and 0.7% (488) of the votes respectively. Roughly 70,000 people voted and the abstention rate was 35.91%.[1] President Pinto da Costa and Maria das Neves contested the election results before the country’s Constitutional Court.

In São Tomé and Príncipe the presidential term is five years, and is limited to two consecutive terms. The electoral system for presidential elections is based on the majority principle where the winning candidate is required to obtain an absolute majority (a minimum of 50% plus one vote) of the votes. A second election is organised if none of the candidates receives an absolute majority. In the second round, only the two top candidates are allowed to contest.

The CEN cancelled the election results because of changes in the provisional results affected by vote counts from the diaspora (Portugal, Angola, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea) and because voting had been delayed in one district. According to the Election Commission, no candidate managed to get more than half the votes validly cast. On 22 July, the Constitutional Court decided that a second round between President Pinto da Costa and Carvalho will take place on 7 August.

Both presidential candidates are experienced politicians. President Pinto da Costa, 79, was the first president after independence (1975-1991) and was co-founder of the opposition party, the Movement for the Liberation of São Tomé and Príncipe/Social Democratic Party (MLSTP/PSD). Since 2011, he is again president of São Tomé and Príncipe. Pinto da Costa ran three times for president (1994, 2001 and 2011). Yet, his presidential bid was only successful in 2011 when he ran as an independent candidate. Carvalho, 74, was chief of staff to President Pinto da Costa. He was defence minister in 1992 and headed a ‘government of presidential initiative’ in 1994 and in 2001. From 2010 to 2012 Carvalho was the speaker of parliament and became vice-president of the ADI after the 2014 parliamentary elections. This is the second time Carvalho has run for president on the ADI ticket. In 2011, he was defeated by President Pinto da Costa by 47.1% to 52.9%. Yet, it is unclear if President da Costa will beat Carvalho again. For one thing, the incumbent president wants the President of the Election Commission Alberto Pereira to resign and has threatened to withdraw from the presidential elections if he refuses to do so.

If Carvalho becomes president, PM Trovoada’s government may well be the first to finish its four-year term. Under São Tomé and Príncipe’s semi-presidential system, the president can dismiss the prime minister, albeit under circumscribed conditions. Presidents have actively used this power: President Miguel Trovoada (1991-2001) dismissed two prime ministers in his time, while his successor, President Fradique de Menezes (2001-2011) dismissed three.[2] Since 1991 when the first multiparty elections were held in São Tomé and Príncipe, there have been 17 different governments.

Should Carvalho win the elections, intra-executive conflict is unlikely because he is from the same party as the prime minister. The ADI won an absolute majority (33 of the 55 seats) in the 2014 parliamentary election, which resulted into the formation of a single-party government led by PM Trovoada. If President Pinto da Costa were reelected, intra-executive tensions may continue but not escalate. The president’s relationship with the prime minister has not been marked by conflict, but rather distance and non-interference.


[1] See data published online by the Election Commission (CEN):

[2] In 2006, constitutional changes reduced the presidency’s executive powers in the areas of defence and foreign affairs and made it harder for the head of state to dismiss the PM and dissolve the 55-member National Assembly. For a detailed description of São Tomé and Príncipe’s semi-presidential system, see: SEIBERT, G. 2009. Instabilidade política e revisão constitucional: semipresidencialismo em São Tomé e Príncipe. In: LOBO, M. C. & NETO, O. A. (eds.) O Semipresidencialismo nos Países de Língua Portuguesa. Lisbon: ICS.

São Tomé and Príncipe – A new government has been formed

In the October parliamentary election the ADI party won an absolute majority in São Tomé and Principe’s parliament. On 25 November President Pinto Da Costa appointed Patrice Trovoada as the new Prime Minister. The new government is the country’s 16th constitutional government and the third single-party majority government since the first multiparty elections in 1991.

PM Trovoada’s government consist of 13 ministers of which 9* served in the ADI minority government (2010-2012). On 29 November and according to presidential decree 20/2014 the following ministers are appointed:

  1. Minister of the Presidency and of Parliamentary Affairs: Afonso Varela*
  2. Minister of Foreign Affairs and Communities: Salvador dos Ramos*
  3. Minister of Defence and Sea: Carlos Olimpio Stock*
  4. Minister of Justice and Human Rights: Roberto Raposo
  5. Minister of Internal Administration: Arlindo Ramos*
  6. Minister of Finance and Public Administration: Américo de Oliveira Ramos*
  7. Minister of Economy and International Cooperation: Agostinho Fernandes*
  8. Minister of Infrastructure, Natural Resources and Environment: Carlos Vila Nova*
  9. Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development: Teodorico Campos
  10. Minister of Employment and Social Affairs: Carlos Gomes*
  11. Minister of Health: Maria de Jesus Trovoada dos Santos
  12. Minister of Education, Culture and Science: Olinto Silva Sousa Daio*
  13. Minister of Youth and Sport: Marcelino Leal Sanches

President Pinto da Costa will again coexist with PM Trovoada. After winning the presidential election in August 2011 until December 2012 President Pinto da Costa (formally independent but co-founder of the Movement for the Liberation of São Tomé and Príncipe/Social Democratic Party (MLSTP/PSD)) faced an ADI minority government led by PM Trovoada. The minority government fell after three opposition parties issued a censure motion, twenty months before the end of its four-year term.

Now, however, the ADI single-party government enjoys a majority in parliament, which strengthens significantly the PM’s position vis-à-vis the President.

Absolute single-party majorities have been the exception and not the rule in São Tomé for the past 25 years. Out of 16 constitutional governments, only three parties managed to secure a majority of seats in the 55-member parliament: PCD (33 seats, 54.4%) in 1991, MLSTP/PSD (31, 46.1%) in 1998 and ADI with 33 seats (38.01%) in 2014.[1]

Both the PCD and MLSTP/PSD single-party majority governments were sent home by the president in 1994 and 2001, respectively. Yet, the 2003 constitutional amendments, which came into effect in 2006[2] make it much more difficult for the president to dismiss the government.[3] This is particularly so in the case of a majority government.

A single-party majority government largely rules out conflict in the government and between the government and parliament. Moreover, it opens a window of opportunity for the ADI party to rapidly change (again) the electoral system, which is considered to be a source of political instability.[4]

[1] I would like to thank Dr. Gerhard Seibert of the Universidade da Integração Internacional da Lusofonia Afro-Brasileira (UNILAB) for providing me with this information.

[2] Seibert, G. (2009) ‘Instabilidade política e revisão constitucional: semipresidencialismo em São Tomé e Príncipe’, in Lobo, M. C. and Neto, O. A. (eds) Instabilidade política e revisão constitucional. semipresidencialismo em São Tomé e Príncipe, Lisbon: Instituto de Ciências Sociais, 201-230.

[3] So, formally, in 2006 São Tomé and Príncipe’s semi-presidential system changed from the president-parliamentary type of government to a premier-presidential one.

[4] Gorjão, P. (2010) ‘São Tomé and Príncipe: Heading into political instability as usual?’, IPRIS Viewpoints, 2.

São Tomé and Príncipe – Legislative elections: clear victory, uncertain future

Local, regional and legislative elections were held in the archipelago of São Tomé and Príncipe on 12 October. The opposition Independent Democratic Action party (ADI) under the leadership of Patrice Trovoada secured an absolute majority in parliament. The Prime Minister-in-waiting is, however, not a newcomer to politics and his relationship with incumbent President Manuel Pinto da Costa is far from cordial.

São Tomé and Príncipe has a unicameral parliament with 55 seats. MPs are elected every four years in general elections. The last legislative elections were held in 2010.

Distribution of seats

Political Party 2014 Change
ADI (Partido Aliança Democrática Independente) 33 +7
MLSTP/PSD (Movimento de Libertação de São Tomé e Príncipe/Partido Social Democrata) 16 -5
PCD (Partido da Convergência Democrática) 5 -2
MDFM/PL (Movimento Democrático das Forças da Mudança/Partido Liberal) 0 -1
UDD (União para a Democracia e Desenvolvimento) 1 +1

Patrice Trovoada is the son of former President Miguel Trovoada (1991-2001). In the first years after independence, a power struggle between President Pinto da Costa and Miguel Trovoada, then Prime Minister, culminated in the detention of the latter without charge or trial from 1979 to 1981. Since that time Pinto da Costa and Miguel Trovoada have been considered as arch political rivals in the archipelago.

The relationship between Patrice Trovoada and President Pinto da Costa is equally problematic. In December 2012 Pinto da Costa dismissed Prime Minister Patrice Trovoada, following a parliamentary vote of no-confidence against the ADI minority government. The President then appointed a ‘government of presidential initiative’, a move which was considered ‘illegal’ and ‘unconstitutional’. In the aftermath of the censure motion, ADI mobilised street protests in support of Trovoada and temporarily boycotted parliament.

Since then, ADI has been at loggerheads with opposition parties MLSTP/PSD, PCD, and MDFM/PL. In early June 2013, PCD filed a criminal complaint against the former Prime Minister for his alleged role in money laundering practices. For its part, on 16 June 2014, ADI filed a criminal complaint at the International Criminal Court against the President, Prime Minister and other government officials, accusing them of ‘political persecution’ and of ‘violating the constitution’. In a communiqué ADI also asked for an official investigation into crimes committed during Pinto da Costa’s dictatorship from 1975 to 1991.

Trovoada told reporters he will transform his country into ‘Africa’s little Dubai’ and to achieve this goal he plans to start by attacking the problem of extreme poverty and unemployment. ADI has significant backing among the poorer parts of the islands. The Prime Minister-elect also promised to bring political stability to the country.

São Tomé and Príncipe now faces a period of political uncertainty that is likely to continue until the presidential elections of 2016. Officially, President Pinto da Costa is non-partisan. So, the result of the election will not lead to a formal period of cohabitation. However, the President is expected to be particularly active in the legislative area, using veto powers to slow down decision-making.

São Tomé and Príncipe – President Manuel Pinto da Costa

President Manuel Pinto da Costa is São Tomé and Príncipe’s third democratically elected president since the collapse of the socialist one-party regime in 1991. Since 1991 the archipelago has experienced 8 presidents, 17 governments, and has been headed by 14 different prime ministers from four different parties. None of the governments completed their 4-year term. Pinto da Costa’s presidency, like the one of his predecessors, is marked by political instability.

President Pinto da Costa was the first president of São Tomé and Príncipe after independence (1975-1991) and co-founder of the Movement for the Liberation of São Tomé and Príncipe/Social Democratic Party (MLSTP/PSD). Yet during the 2011 presidential elections he ran as an independent candidate. In the presidential runoff he defeated Evaristo Carvalho of the ruling Independent Democratic Action (ADI) party by 52.9% to 47.1%.

When the president assumed office in September 2011, he was faced with a prime minister, Patrice Trovoada, from the ADI. The ADI government, which already lacked a clear parliamentary majority, was weakened by the loss of its candidate at the presidential election.

The situation where the government is supported by a legislative minority and opposes the president is designated as a divided minority government and is associated with institutional conflict and political instability.[1] Under Pinto da Costa’s presidency Trovoada’s minority government lasted only 15 months.

The president dismissed the government on 4 December 2012 following a parliamentary vote of no confidence on 29 November. Despite attempts by his ADI party to contest the decision (notably via the staging of a mass demonstration on 5 December), a new prime minister in Gabriel da Costa of the Union of Democrats for Citizenship and Development (UDD) was appointed by the president. Prime minister da Costa formed a coalition majority government composed of three former opposition parties, MLSTP/PSD, Democratic Convergence Party (PCD) and Force for Change Democratic Movement – Liberal Party (MDFM-PL) and some independents.[2]

With the appointment of Gabriel da Costa the relationship between the president and prime minister has improved. However, corruption scandals have plagued the coalition government. President Pinto da Costa has taken several steps to combat corruption, which, according to him, “destroys democracy”. The most rigorous step was, probably, the government reshuffle in January 2014. In line with the prime minister’s proposal, the president replaced the minister for public works, infrastructure, and natural resources, Osvaldo Abreu, by Fernando Maquengo. Equally, Leonel Pontes, the minister of health and social affairs was dismissed and substituted by Maria Tomé de Araújo. In addition, the president appointed two new government members, namely Demostenes Pires dos Santos as the new minister of tourism, commerce and industry and José Fonseca as state secretary for public works, infrastructure and natural resources.

The military have posed another threat to the political stability of the country. In early February the army refused to dispatch a guard of honour to salute the departure of the president to a conference in Brazzaville, complaining about payment arrears, bad working conditions, and a general lack of recognition of their services. The military strike forced the armed forces chief of staff, Brigadier Felisberto Maria Segundo, to resign. He was replaced by Colonel Justino Lima, who was sworn in by the president on 18 February. São Tomé experienced military coups in 1995 and 2003. Both were non-violent and resulted in negotiated settlements on the restructuring of the armed forces and salary increases.

Political instability could continue as the 2014 legislative election (exact date still unconfirmed) is likely to produce another weak coalition or minority government. Politics in São Tomé – an archipelago of only 180,000 inhabitants – is dominated by four main political parties that do not differ in terms of political ideologies but represent competing interest groups and personalities. Moreover, the country’s electoral system, party-list proportional representation, makes it very difficult for one party to achieve an absolute majority.

[1] Skach, C. (2005) Borrowing Constitutional Designs: Constitutional Law in Weimar Germany. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

[2] (2013) ‘SÃO TOMÉ E PRÍNCIPE: No-Confidence Vote’, Africa Research Bulletin: Political, Social and Cultural Series, 49, 19519A–19519B.