afrol News, 26 February - Yesterday was the tenth day of the electoral campaign on Sao Tomé and Principe, and seemed as turbulent as the one in Zimbabwe - but only because of the tropical storm convulsing the islands. The political messages were blown away although much is at stake.
In December, Sao Toméan President Fradique de Menezes dissolved the National Assembly, announced early legislative election on 3 March and established a government coalition of national unity. Menezes had been pressured by the majority party MLSTP's boycott of parliamentary sessions.
The usual political tranquillity on the archipelago was disrupted by oppositional Menezes' victory in last August's presidential elections and his ousting of the traditional leading party Movement for the Liberation of Sao Tomé and Principe (MLSTP) from government. With the MLSTP abandoning Parliament and thus blocking its sessions, other parties reacted with a demand for early elections.
The 3 March elections will decide whether Menezes can base his rule on a majority of the parties he prefers or if he will have to accept ruling side by side with a government dominated by his political opponents, the MLSTP. The electoral campaign thus was expected to become a smearing campaign between the MLSTP and the block supporting President Menezes.
MLSTP spokesman Joaquim Rafael Branco yesterday started the campaign freshly, saying the other parties were launching "personal and insidious attacks" on his party. They had destroyed MLSTP campaigning material because "they lack arguments to convince the voters," Branco told the press.
Branco's party was coming to grip with the newest poll, showing that the MLSTP was set to obtain the same number of votes as the opponent party block, thus maintaining the disturbing political equilibrium on Sao Tomé and Principe. Analysts said they expected none of the two political blocks to win a decisive victory in next week's poll. The campaigning on both sides got rougher.
Only a clear MLSTP victory could however change the political setting on the islands. President Menezes already last week reassured it was within presidential powers to name a national government, and without a solid MLSTP majority in the new parliament as well, there is no one to dispute that argument. If the President thus wants to exclude the biggest party, which undoubtedly will remain the MLSTP, from government, he has the popular confidence in doing so.
Yesterday's storm breathed some life into the day-to-day concerns of the average Sao Toméan, but more favourable weather conditions today allowed the politicians to take control of the agenda again. On one of the last days of the electoral campaign, the parties held rallies on various small localities on the islands. There was not much talk about the weather.
Sao Tomé has been marked by political stability and democracy since the introduction of multi-party elections in 1991. The experienced political crisis has been found inconvenient by local politicians, and the government has started to work on constitutional amendments to avoid these situations in the future.