afrol News, 31 March - The President of Sao Tomé and Principe, Fradique de Menezes, has named a new government after his political block failed to win the 3 March legislative elections. The government - "of national unity" - is to be composed of the three parties/groups represented in the national Parliament. The rituals behind the announcement indicate that Sao Tomé has experienced a significant constitutional reform.
The new government, which has already been described as a technocrat government, will be headed by a man of compromise, the elect Prime Minister Gabriel Costa. Costa (47) holds the important office as Sao Tomé's ambassador in Portugal, the former colonial power, and until recently belonged to the Liberation Movement for Sao Tomé and Principe (MLSTP), a party in opposition to President Menezes. Costa is however observed to be "a person close to the incumbent President," according to the Portuguese Radio RDP.
In an interview with RDP, the elect Prime Minister guaranteed that the opposition would "have space" for its policies and said the government would be dedicated to "good governance and democracy." Costa is a trained lawyer and comes from the minor island of Principe.
The early elections on 3 March originally had the purpose of deciding whether President Menezes could name a government by presidential decree - as he had done, ignoring the absolute majority of MLSPT in the Sao Toméan parliament - or whether it was within the powers of the parliamentary majority to decide on the government's composition. While the MLSTP lost its absolute majority, it however remained the biggest party, making the election results a draw between the two positions. A political compromise had to be found.
After consultations between MLSTP and the Democratic Movement of Forces for Change (MDFM), which is supported by President Menezes, the two main parties last week agreed upon the appointment of Costa. On Tuesday, the spokesman of the Presidency, Ângelo Bonfim, announced the appointment of Costa by presidential decree.
This week, Costa has negotiated with MLSTP, MDFM and the third and smallest party represented in Parliament, Uê-Kedadji, and the composition of the new government was announced. All three parties were to participate in the "government of national unity", which was increased from eight to eleven ministries. The appointment was again made public as a presidential decree by President Menezes.
RDP quotes the local journalist, Martinho Tavares, as judging the new government of being "technocratic". All ministers were scholars and specialists, little dedicated to party politics. Tavares held this to be a positive aspect given the political situation on the archipelago, which could "give us the necessary input for development in Sao Tomé and Principe." Four of the eleven ministers are women.
The "government by presidential initiative" under Prime Minister Evaristo de Carvalho however remains in office. It is expected that Costa's new government will take office during the upcoming week, replacing Carvalho.
The seeming political compromise in Sao Tomé in reality signifies a major defeat for President Menezes in the backstage constitutional power struggle. In fact, a parliamentary system of government was introduced in Sao Tomé and Principe last week. According to the Sao Toméan constitution, it is within the powers of the President to name a government, a competence Menezes tried to make use of.
The results of the power struggle however have been the reduction of the presidency to a more representative office. Parallel to the constitutional monarchies of Europe, where it constitutionally is within the merit of the Kings and Queens to appoint the government, the Head of State gradually has been reduced to only sign the decrees already defined by the representatives of the parliamentary majority. Menezes, while still having real powers, has been stripped of his veto during this power struggle.
While the Sao Toméan constitution remains unchanged, placing the executive at the presidency's mercy, legal practice and common law has changed, tilting the power balance in favour of Parliament.
Since the introduction of multi-party democracy in 1991, the government in practical terms had been established by the parliamentary majority until Menezes - following his inauguration as President in September last year - appointed his "government by presidential initiative" ignoring the MLSTP majority. The MLSTP answered by walking out of Parliament, thus blocking its sessions and provoking the need for a popular vote to decide on who was in power to appoint the government. MLSTP won the poll 3 March by a very small margin.