- As the first partial results from Sunday's troubled election in São Tomé and Príncipe indicate a victory for the President's party, authorities have decided that almost 10,000 citizens will get a new chance to vote next Sunday. They had been hindered from entering the polling stations by protesting groups, trying to organise an election boycott.
Sunday's parliamentary elections in the small island state were marred by irregularities in four major districts. Large groups of protesters, mostly underprivileged youths, held that none of the country's main parties are seriously addressing poverty, as shown by the lack of water and power supply, poor health services and lack of road maintenance.
Consequently, they staged a large boycott action, trying to hinder citizens in their districts from voting. Barricades were erected, effectively blocking access to 25 polling stations in the districts of Me Zochi, Cantagalo, Lembá and Água Grande. While the protest action was otherwise peaceful, many citizens were angered as they could not cast their vote.
According to the National Election Commission (CEN), a total of 9,526 potential voters in the four districts were hindered access to polling stations. As the electoral roll only totals around 80,000 potential voters in São Tomé and Príncipe, a significant part of voters had not been given a chance to express their opinion.
The CEN and São Tomé's major parties yesterday agreed that a re-run in the four affected districts was necessary to allow for a legitimate result. According to CEN President José Carlos Barreiros, the São Toméan constitution foresees that citizens are given a chance to cast their vote, even if that means organising a re-run. Mr Barreiros today announced that voters of the four districts affected by the boycott would get another chance on Sunday.
The main parties of the archipelago yesterday declared their disapproval of the boycott action. The socialist Movement for the Liberation of São Tomé and Príncipe (MLSTP) - which has dominated national politics since independence in 1975 and dominates the current government - said the protesters should have made use of the proper election as an opportunity to change the country's political course.
The conservative Democratic Movement of Forces for Change (MDFM) - which is led by São Tomé's President Fradique de Menezes - also denounced the actions. President Menezes told the national press that the boycott would "not solve the problems" of the poor, who instead should have participated in the poll, voting according to their social conscience.
Despite the fact that there will be a re-run in the four districts affected by the boycott, the CEN already today started publishing the first partial results of the vote counting. As a majority of the votes has been counted, President Menezes' MDFM seemed well placed to win a parliamentary majority, while the centrist Independent Democratic Action (ADI) seemed to grow into a major party.
According to CNE President Barreiros, so far the MDFM had won 22 parliamentary seats, while the governing MLSTP had only won 20 seats. The ADI made great advances and had won 12 seats in parliament. There still remained votes to be counted and the four districts affected by the boycott would still be able to alter the final result. A continued majority for the MLSTP however by now seems impossible.
MDFM campaign leader Delfim Neves today on 'Rádio Nacional' therefore announced the victory of the presidential party, saying the projections were clear. According to the independent media 'Téla Nón', the ruling MLSTP today said it would not jump to conclusions as the final result still was very open.
This was supported by the CNE's Mr Barreiros, who said it was "still not the moment to announce victories." There were still over 8,000 votes left to count and more than 9,000 potential voters to make up their minds next Sunday, the CNE President told 'Téla Nón'. Final results thus will not be announced before next week.
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