Political crisis in São Tomé and Principe

[All links lead to Portuguese language pages except when otherwise noted.]

In recent days the political sphere in São Tomé and Principe has plunged into a crisis situation involving a motion to censure government, scenes of fist fighting in the National Assembly, and a mass protest calling for early elections.

On November 21, opposition parties – Movement to Liberate São Tomé and Príncipe (MLSTP), Democratic Convergence Party (PCD) and the Democratic Movement Force of Change (MDFM) – presented a motion to censure the minority government led by Patrice Trovoada [en] (of Democratic Independent Action, or ADI), that was approved by the Assembly on November 29.

It is the second time that Patrice Trovoada as Prime Minister has been the target of a censure motion, the first in May 2008, three months after the beginning of his first term. In his second term since August 2010, this time, among the list of accusations presented by its signers, were alleged “acts of corruption, taking on negotiations overseas with ‘private companies sidelining the respective ministers with oversight, without the awareness of other sovereign bodies, and even less so with public knowledge'”, as newspaper Jornal Vitrina informs, adding:

O governo, não obstante ter um orçamento aprovado pela assembleia nacional, ignorou pura e simplesmente as alterações aprovadas pelo plenário da assembleia nacional e executou um orçamento completamente à margem das dotações orçamentais, facto que refletiu de imediato na falta de medicamentos nos hospitais, bem como no desprezo total do governo para com os necessitados.

Fight between parliamentarians (click to see the video, skip to 04:50).

Fight between parliamentarians (click to see the video, skip to 04:50).

The government, despite the budget approved by the National Assembly, quite simply ignored the alterations approved by the National Assembly and executed a budget that entirely side-steps budget allocations, an act that resulted in an immediate lack of medications in hospitals, as well as a total disdain by the government for the most needy.

The underlying political conflict came to life in a parliamentary session on November 23 in scenes of “fist fighting” between MPs, as can be seen in this video (at 04:50). The unheard of events led the then President of the National Assembly, Evaristo de Carvalho (of the party in power), to resign, and on Wednesday, November 28, the opposition elected Alcino Pinto (do MLSTP/PSD) to take the post.

In a message to the country on November 26, the President commented on the conflict reigning in Parliament, in which he appeals for a dialogue “as the only democratically legitimate way for different points of view to confront each other.”

Alda Santos, a citizen of São Tomé, laments what happened in the parliamentary session:

A Representatividade do Povo de S.Tomé e Principe no Parlamento tornou-se uma autentica palhaçada e o Parlamento transformou-se num Circo onde sai palhaço, entra palhaço e por esse andar, assim vai sendo o dia-a-dia no Parlamento!

The representation of the people of São Tomé and Principe in the Parliament has turned into an authentic clown act, and the Parliament has turned in a Circus where when one clown leaves another comes along and this is the daily life of the Parliament!

On November 29, rejecting the approved motion and the nomination of the new President of the Assembly, the government called for a protest on its behalf, that brought thousands of people coming from various districts in São Tomé and Principe. They made their way through a number of main streets of the capital city towards the seat of government, where they concentrated with posters and slogans saying “The People Put [You There], The People Remove [You]”, “Patrice Falls, Pinto Falls”, and “Early Elections Now!”, among others who showed their support for the party:

The current Minister of Education, Olinto Daio, member of the government targeted by the impeachment measure, shared a series of photos on his Facebook page.

Sociologist and digital activist Humbah Aguiar recorded a video in which he comments on the current situation:

S.Tomé e Principe vive uma crise política parlamentar. Os deputados da oposição que constituem a maioria, derrubam o governo aprovando uma moção de censura, numa sessão parlamentar que contou com ausência dos deputados do partido no poder. Por um lado os partidos na oposição não desejam eleições e o partido no poder deseja eleições antecipadas.

S. Tomé and Principe is living a parliamentary crisis. The opposition MPs which constitute a majority, have brought down the government by censuring it, in a parliamentary session in which the MPs from the party in power were absent. On one hand the parties in the opposition do not want early elections and [on the other] the party in power wants them.

In the message, directed at the Prime Minister, at the opposition parties and at the President, he appeals for dialogue between politicians and for the scheduling of early elections:

Lauro José Cardoso, on Facebook shared a note entitled Patriotism vs Unpatriotism:

A nossa bandeira democrática está perdendo o sentido e sinceramente duvido q alguma vez tenha tido porque a realidade mostra que o passado não serviu de bússola nem de inspiração. todavia, o presente necessita de uma revolução mental e todos os santolas que se encontram realmente preocupados devem lutar a favor desta revolução contra os homens da picarreta. Heróis precisam-se e não falo do batman, spiderman ou superman, falo de nós seres humanos defensores da nossa pátria do leve-leve. O patriotismo é a principal solução .Não haverá mudança sem aliança nem haverá esperança sem confiança. Por conseguinte vamos fazer o caminho inverso em relaçao a esses chavalões da picarreta, vamos colocar barros no bauracanço e consertar esta balburdia!

Our democratic flag is losing its way and I sincerely doubt that it ever knew the way at all because reality shows that the past has not served as a compass or even as inspiration. However, the present needs a mental revolution and all São Tomeans who find themselves really worried should fight for this revolution against these con men. Heroes are needed, and I'm not talking about Batman, Spiderman, or Superman, I am talking about us, human beings, defenders of our homeland from the leve-leve [generally meaning “easy, easy” the phrase describes “the delightful, easy-going demeanor of the citizens of São Tomé and Príncipe”]. Patriotism is the main solution. There will be no change without an alliance, nor will there be hope without trust. So let's take the opposite route from these tricksters, let's fill in these potholes and fix this mess!

The President Manuel Pinto da Costa is expected to give his findings on the impeachment measure soon. Everything indicates that there will be early elections in the country.

Wrote in collaboration with Mário Lopes.

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