Sao Tomé & Principe
São Tomé to revise constitution

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President Fradique de Menezes

Shall he have powers to name the government?

President Fradique de Menezes

afrol News, 28 October - A process to revise the constitution of São Tomé and Príncipe has formally been initiated. The process aims at finding constitutional tools to end an era of short-living governments and may conclude on giving more powers to the President.

In a little more than one year, the archipelago has had four different governments, following a period of stable, long-living governments since independence. The situation, which is perceived as a constitutional crisis in São Tomé, was sparked by President Fradique de Menezes, in office since August last year.

President Menezes made use of his constitutional powers and appointed a government close to him, but ignoring the parliamentary majority of the Movement for the Liberation of Sao Tomé and Principe (MLSTP) - the islands' traditional ruling party. The MLSTP answered by obstructing parliamentary works and thus provoking new elections.

The March elections were to become a poll in favour of parliamentarism or in favour of governments answering to the President. The verdict of the São Toméan electorate however was not decisive, the elections producing two equally big blocks - the MLSTP and pro-Menezes parties - in Parliament. An unpopular compromise has been the rule since that; instable national unity governments. 

Both the MLSTP - to which Prime Minister Maria das Neves belongs - and the pro-Menezes parties agree that the current situation of broad but weak governments creates an unfortunate political instability. Also the MLSTP seems to be giving up the idea of more parliamentarism; governments answering only to Parliament. 

50 of Parliament's 55 members therefore have endorsed a project to look into a revision of the constitution - which is seen as too unclear on the power-sharing between Parliament and President. A parliamentarian working group is to propose possible amendments with the aim of producing more stable governments. 

The mandate of the group is to look into ways of introducing "a semi-presidential system" into the constitution, not too unlike the current practice on the islands. To create more stability within this framework, one foresees clearer definitions of competence between the different state institutions, the possible use of referendums and the establishment of a Constitutional Court.

There is an almost uniform agreement on the need to change the constitution's text. Professor Jorge Bacelar Gouveia, an expert on the constitution of São Tomé and Príncipe, told the Portuguese radio RDP he considers the proposed revision being a "good contribution to the perfecting of the constitutional system." 

Also Delfim Neves, leader of the pro-Menezes party MDFM-PCD, told the broadcaster it was necessary formalise the semi-presidential system in the country, adapting the constitution to reality, so one could "put an end to the unstable politics that appear due to differing interpretations of the constitution." He was supported by the parliamentary leaders of MLSTP and Uê-Kedadji, the third coalition party.

Sources: Based on Sao Tome govt, press reports and afrol archives

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