See also:
» 18.03.2010 - Election dates finally set for São Tomé
» 18.02.2009 - Coup leaders charged in São Tomé
» 05.08.2008 - São Tomé invests in undersea link
» 25.06.2008 - São Tomé and Príncipe flights back to Europe route
» 17.06.2008 - Still no govt in São Tomé
» 17.10.2007 - São Tomé and Principe reduces trade deficit
» 28.03.2006 - Election re-run in São Tomé after irregularities
» 01.06.2005 - São Tomé-Nigeria oil blocks finally awarded

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São Tomé and Príncipe

Protests against anticipated São Tomé polls

afrol News, 4 June - Civil society in São Tomé and Príncipe is mobilising against yet another anticipated election in the poor island state. The country's government lost a confidence vote over two weeks ago and President Fradique de Menezes has called for anticipated legislative elections. Also the Armed Forces and the business community are expressing concerns.

A broad coalition government led by Prime Minister Prime Minister Patrice Trovoada on 20 May lost a vote of confidence to the opposition, supported by MPs belonging to one of the governing parties. Prime Minister was accused of "lack of transparency" in his way of running of the island state.

President Menezes now is expected to announce the holding of anticipated elections, probably already in July, according to São Toméan sources. A decision is to be made today or tomorrow.

But the probable solution of anticipated elections is already causing outrage among many groups. Civil society, including trade unions, the fishermen association and the agricultural sector, in a meeting yesterday warned President Menezes that new elections would lead the country "further into an abyss and contribute to worsen the living conditions for the population."

There are concerns about the economic consequences of anticipated elections. First, holding an election now instead of the ordinary date in 2010 would be a costly affair for the impoverished state. But also the political stability and international reputation of São Tomé was at risk, unions hold, and this could lead to fewer investments in the country.

Economic consequences of the political crisis are already felt in São Tomé and Príncipe. The government of Portugal in late May decided to postpone its debt pardon and a credit line worth euro 50 million to the country. Portuguese Finance Minister Teixeira dos Santos also cancelled a visit to the archipelago on short notice.

Civil society is now urging politicians to find a solution to the political stalemate, rather agreeing on a new unity government that calling for fresh elections. Jorge Carvalho of the Federation of Non-Governmental Organisations of São Tomé and Príncipe told the local media 'Téla Nón' that "The problem is not elections, the problem is the persons. We have to stop politicising everything and the persons that win elections have to take on responsibilities to govern the country."

But a national unity government seems to become ever more difficult to establish. The party of Prime Minister Trovoada, Independent Democratic Action (ADI), this week announced it had decided to cancel its cooperation pact with the other governing parties. It would not participate in another coalition government with its previous partners, a party convention decided. This decision would jeopardise any chance of establishing a new coalition, with or without new elections.

As the political crisis deepens, the São Toméan Armed Forces in a seldom move have made clear political statements. In a letter to the President, generals express "concern over the current crisis" and urge him "to find a quick solution." It remains uncertain whether the Armed Forces are pressing for quick elections or a new unity government, and what would be the consequences if a quick solution is not found.

Under President Menezes, São Tomé has fallen from one government crisis into another. This is both due to the almost equal size of the opposition and Mr Menezes' party in parliament, but also due to the President's attempts to secure more powers for his office. While the São Toméan constitution seeks a power balance between the presidency and parliament, President Menezes has been able to outmanoeuvre the split parliament and government on many occasions.

Also the increasing investments in offshore oil in São Tomé and Príncipe are believed to have caused increased political instability. Several high officials, including President Menezes, have seen corruption charges being presented against them, and a military coup in late 2003.

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