, São Tomé, Sao Tome and Principe, Aug 7 – Voters in the tiny west African archipelago of Sao Tome and Principe went to the polls Sunday to elect a new president, but only one candidate is standing in a runoff the incumbent boycotted as fraudulent.
Held up as a model of democracy in the region, the country is mired in a political crisis unprecedented in its 25 years of multiparty politics following the initial July 17 vote.
Some 111,000 voters had originally been due to choose between Evaristo Carvalho, who won 49.8 percent in the first round, and President Manuel Pinto da Costa, who took 24.83 percent, according to official results published by the Constitutional Tribunal.
Former prime minister Carvalho, the ruling party candidate, initially appeared to have scraped past the required 50 percent needed for an outright win.
But Pinto Da Costa challenged the result and election officials called a second round after revising Carvalho’s tally to 49.8 percent.
“To continue to participate in a fraudulent electoral process is tantamount to condoning it,” outgoing president Pinto da Costa said Friday as he turned 79.
“I am not prepared to do so as a candidate, much less so as president of the republic.”
– Ashamed of Sao Tome –
Pinto Da Costa had sought an annulment of the first round results in a joint appeal with third-placed candidate Maria das Neves, who took 16 percent of the vote.
But the constitutional court found against their claim of irregularities and fraud.
Carvalho called on “all residents of Sao Tome and Principe to exercise their right to vote” Sunday and confirm his first round victory.
The non-participation of the outgoing president could, however, weaken the turnout.
“I think abstention will be the big winner in these elections marked by controversy,” said sociologist Olivio Diogo, who believes the political background will reduce participation.
“I am ashamed of what is happening in Sao Tome at the moment,” said voter Aguinaldo Garrido.
“How will the new president be legitimised?” asked the computer engineer. “The polling stations will be composed only of Carvalho party members as the other parties have given up.”
First round turnout was 64.31 percent of a total electorate of 111,222 in a country of barely 200,000 people, which depends largely on international aid.
Shortly after polls opened at 7:00 am (0700 GMT) only a trickle of voters had appeared to cast their ballots in the capital, an AFP journalist reported, with many people heading first to mass in the mainly Christian country.
“The process is going ahead calmly and without problems across the country,” an electoral commission official told AFP.
Executive power in Sao Tome and Principe is shared between the president and the prime minister and has led to turf wars in the past.
The president’s role is to arbitrate while real power lies with the prime minister who governs the former Portuguese colony.
Carvalho, the favourite from the start, is supported by Prime Minister Patrice Trovoada, whose party holds a majority in the assembly.
Trovoada wants Carvalho to win the presidency to end the “cohabitation” he had with Pinto da Costa, with whom he has a family rivalry that dates back to independence from Portugal.
Pinto da Costa became the first ruler of the islands on independence in 1975 and established a Marxist-Leninist state whose intolerance of opposition sent many dissidents into exile, including Trovoada’s father Manuel after relations between the two men soured.
Manuel Trovoada returned after the country was transformed into a multiparty democracy in 1991 and was twice elected president.