Having obtained independence from the mother country, the country was led for 16 years by a socialist regime, headed by Manuel Pinto da Costa. Within a decade, a strong disaffection towards the establishment grew among the population; it was mainly caused by the economic decline, the impact of which on living
conditions was considerable.
This situation favoured the opening of the process of economic liberalization which began in 1985 and was consolidated at the beginning of the 1990s. As a consequence, there followed a change in relations on the international scene, with a transition from the front of the socialist countries which was weakening, towards western countries. The move towards the other front was also consolidated through the liberalization of the market; the partial restitution of agricultural plantations that had been collectivized; the opening of a popular referendum that approved a new Constitution; and, therefore, the transition to the democratic regime, taking place in 1991, in the style of Western democracies, with a semi-presidential system, regular elections, and alternation of ruling parties.
More specifically, the country’s institutional set-up is made up of a National Assembly in which 55 members, a Head of State, and a Head of Government, sit. The Head of State is elected every five years by universal suffrage and is allowed only two consecutive terms; the Assembly is renewed every 4 years, while the Prime Minister is
appointed by the President.
From a political point of view, the liberal turn was also supported by the founding of the Party of Democratic Convergence-Reflection Group (PCD-GR) which won the legislative of January 1991. In March of that same year, thanks to the support of the PCD-GR and that of Prime Minister Daniel Daio, Miguel Trovoada, who had recently returned from French exile, was elected to the Presidency of the Republic.
The change of guard did not at all exacerbate the economic and social problems that gripped the population. A situation that was becoming increasingly complicated, exacerbated by bitter disagreements at the top between the Head of State and the new Prime Minister Norberto Costa Allegre, was relating to financial policy. This confrontation, in the summer of 1994, led the Head of State Trovoada to dissolve the National Assembly and call new elections.
The electoral competition, which took place in the following October, did not go in the direction Trovoada hoped for. After three years of absence, the Liberation Movement of São Tomé and Príncipe-Social Democratic Party (MLSTP-PSD) returned to power and was able to exploit the strong popular discontent to place itself again at the helm of the country led by Carlos Graca. However, even this new political course undertaken by the country did not bring any benefit to the economic problems.
On the contrary, further deteriorations were recorded to the point of requiring the launch of new austerity measures, in the absence of which the World Bank would not have provided the further funding on which the entire economy of the country was based. In this context, the conditions for a military coup d’état matured, the resolution of which, however, took place in a few days and in a completely peaceful manner, thanks also to the mediation contribution offered by Angola.
The various governments that alternated in the following years, and Trovoada’s re-election in 1997 to the Presidency of the Republic – which lasted in office until 2001 – did not contribute to the improvement of living conditions in the country.
Once Trovoada was deposed, in 2001 the conservative Fradique de Menezes of the Independent Democratic Action (ADI) took office, while at the 2002 elections, the MLSTP was reconfirmed and formed a government led by Maria das Neves Ceita Baptista de Sousa. This caused a terrible conflict between the presidency and the parliament that soon resulted in a new coup d’état that temporarily deposed Menezes, who returned to office after a few months thanks to the success of international negotiations. So, after a few months, placing himself at the helm of the Democratic Movement of the Forces of Change, a new party he founded in 2001 after a split from ADI, he won the 2006 presidential elections.
Unable to run for a third consecutive term, in the subsequent presidential elections of 2011, Menezes was replaced by Pinto da Costa who won against the speaker of the National Assembly Evaristo Carvalho, the ADI candidate. Elections for the National Assembly were held in 2014 and the ADI gained a majority, winning 33 of the 55 seats. This made it possible to appoint Patrice Trovoada (ADI), son of former president Miguel, as prime minister, a position he already held in 2008 and 2010-2012. Evaristo Carvalho, however, returned to the scene a few years later, winning the presidential elections against Pinto de Costa in August 2016, while the 2018 National Assembly elections marked a defeat for the ADI. In this circumstance, however, the MLSTP-PSD, despite having obtained the largest number of seats, had to opt for the formation of a coalition government, composed together with other smaller parties, of which Jorge Bom Jesus (MLSTP-PSD) was appointed prime minister.
There were 19 candidates in the first round of the 2021 presidential elections. Of these, the MLSTP-PSD’s Guilherme Posser da Costa ran against the ADI’s Carlos Vila Nova who won the competition by getting more than 57% of the votes compared to his opponent’s 42.46%. The ADI also managed to establish itself in the legislative elections of September 2022, led by Patrice Trovoada, obtaining 25 of the 55 seats against the 23 of the MLSTP-PSD, while the remaining two were assigned to an independent party.
On 11 November Patrice Trovoada, swore as prime minister and head of the 18th Sāo Tomean government. On 25 November a coup attempt failed. Prime Minister Patrice Trovoada said four men managed to enter the army headquarters while another armed group waited outside. The ringleaders were arrested after two hours of heavy gunfire and explosions. The Prime Minister said one of them was the outgoing head of the National Assembly and former presidential candidate, Delfim Neves. However, the outgoing prime minister Jorge Bom Jesus labelled the event as an “invention” that the new government would use as a pretext to crack down on opposition parties.
(Open Photo: São Tomé. The presidential palace. CC BY-SA 4.0/ Ji-Elle)