Incumbent wins vote

Incumbent Fradique de Menezes has won Sao Tome’s presidential election with 60 percent of the vote, eliminating the need for a run-off, according to preliminary results released by the National Electoral Commission.

Challengers Patrice Trovoada, son of former President Miguel Trovoada, and Nilo Guimaraes, an accounting manager from Sao Tome’s large diaspora, won 38.5 percent and 0.59 percent respectively.

International observers said Sunday’s voting was peaceful, free and transparent.

“Now the time has come for work, reflection and unity,” said de Menezes in a national address from Yon Gato central square in the capital Sao Tome. He represents the alliance of the Force for Change Democratic Movement – Party for Democratic Convergence.

De Menezes will preside over a country of 140,000 people spread across a handful of islands in the Gulf of Guinea. More than half of the archipelago’s people live in extreme poverty and 30 percent of the working-age population is unemployed. The country is struggling under the burden of a US $300 million external debt.

The discovery of oil offshore in recent years has fueled hopes that the archipelago’s people will begin to enjoy a better standard of living, while at the same time avoid the corruption and conflict that have plagued their oil-rich neighbours. Western countries, such as the United States, which are seeking additional sources of petroleum, have boosted ties with the archipelago.

Because of its strategic position in the Gulf of Guinea, the United States also plans to set up a Central Africa observatory in Sao Tome and Principe on illicit human trafficking and drug smuggling.

For his second five-year term, de Menezes has promised to tackle unemployment, health and education. He has also pledged to address World Bank-supported projects relating to electricity, water and sanitation.

Sao Tome and Principe is negotiating with the Bretton Woods institutions for the cancellation of its debt in 2007. The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank have conditioned the gesture on the country’s economic stabilisation.

Many people of Sao Tome rely on remittances from abroad to survive as the country’s revenues from cocoa exports only amount to some US $5 million annually. Oil production remains insufficient to finance the national budget, which is supported by international aid.

In the past 15 years, Sao Tome and Principe’s political environment has been fraught with disagreements between the presidency and the government over interpretation of their respective constitutional roles. This has held up the smooth functioning of government.

De Menezes has vowed to help improve the country’s fractured political environment.

“In politics we say bad things to each other but I hope that one day the people of Sao Tome will discuss things differently, with respect, and will not defame and slander each other anymore,” he said.

The National Assembly in 2005 reviewed the constitution with the objective to drastically reduce the powers of the presidency. The revised constitution takes away the president’s power to dissolve parliament during a political crisis without the approval of the State Council.

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