African island nation votes

2010-08-01 14:09

Sao Tome - Sao Tome and Principe votes for a new parliament on Sunday with little prospect of any party winning a majority of seats, prolonging political instability plaguing the island nation off West Africa.

The vote comes with the national election commission yet to make clear who won July 25 municipal polls: its president declared last week one party the winner, and then separately announced that another had come out top.

Both parties - the ruling Movement for the Liberation of Sao Tome and Principe/Social Democratic Party (MLSTP/PSD), and the Independent Democratic Action (ADI) - are also seen as the favourites in the parliamentary vote.

Each hopes to take most of the 55 parliament seats on offer on Sunday, enabling them to govern the potentially oil-rich, Portuguese-speaking country off Africa's west coast without concessions.

"We believe that an absolute majority is a difficult scenario but not impossible," said Alcino Pinto, head of the campaign for the MLSTP/PSD party of Prime Minister Rafael Branco.

No absolute majority

"But if the people say at the ballot boxes 'no to an absolute majority', we must respect their choice and negotiate a coalition government," he said.

The ADI is aiming to win over voters from the Force for Democratic Change Movement/Liberal Party (MDFM-PL) of President Fradique de Menezes.

"We are convinced that the majority of voters from the MDFM-PL are going to vote for us, and we will in that way reach an absolute majority," said Levy Nazare, spokesperson for the party of former prime minister Patrice Trovoada.

It would not consider a coalition should it not win outright, he said.

In that case, "We are going to govern without sufficient parliamentary support. If the other parties try to make the government fall in the National Assembly, we will ask the people to defend us," he said.

Fragile coalitions

Only once since 1991 - when democracy was established in the country, Portugal's first colony in Africa - has a party won an outright majority in parliamentary elections: the MLSTP/PSD in 1998.

The president however dismissed the government in 2001, one year before the end of the four-year parliamentary term.

Since 1991, Sao Tome and Principe has had 14 prime ministers at the head of various governments, often crafted from fragile coalitions. No coalition has lasted the parliamentary term.

"No party, not the MLSTP or the ADI, is going to have an absolute majority in these elections," said political analyst Edmar Carvalho, head of the country's lawyers' association, pointing to vote-buying and corruption.

"Party agents offer money to voters so they will vote for their party. It is a technique used by all the political parties in our country. I believe that will cause the imbalance in Sunday's elections," he said.

Could lead to change

In this context, the score of the country's third political force - the Democratic Convergence Party that is a MLSTP/PSD partner in the current government - will be crucial, he said.

Other observers have said the election could lead to a change of government.

There are 79 000 registered voters in the nation of 175 000 people, one of Africa's smallest countries and one of the world's poorest.

The country relies mainly on fishing and subsistence farming and it is one of the few in the Gulf of Guinea that has not yet developed an oil industry, although this year it invited tenders for drilling in 19 areas.