Sunday, July 17, 2011

Sao Tome Readies for Sunday's Presidential Vote

Sao Tome readies for Sunday's presidential vote

By Evaristo Sa | AFP News

Voters in the tiny west African archipelago of Sao Tome and Principe vote for their next president Sunday to decide who will lead the fight to end the nation's poverty and chronic instability.

Favourite to win is former strongman Manuel Pinto da Costa who took the reins of power after playing a leading role to gain independence from Portugal in 1975 ruling a communist one-party state that lasted until 1990.

In accordance with the ban on campaigning on the eve of the vote, he held his last electoral meeting late Friday.

"I am convinced that this Sunday, I will have a clear victory," with a first-round win, he told supporters.

Since the introduction of a multi-party system Pinto has twice failed to get elected and his critics charge him with having presided over an oppressive dictatorship.

Another leading contender is 70-year-old Evaristo de Carvalho, who has served twice as prime minister and is currently the president of the national assembly.

"The stability of our country depends on you," he told supporters Friday.

Despite his critics, Pinto's pledge to root out corruption seems to have struck a chord with voters.

Voters seem to be impatient for stability in a country that has seen 18 different prime ministers since the end of the one-party system in 1990.

And with 54 percent of the country's 200,000 people described as poor by the UN Development Program (UNDP), many are impatient for the country to start exploiting its oil resources.

Other candidates in the running include former journalist turned successful businessman Aurelio Martins.

He is the official candidate of the Movement for the Liberation of Sao Tome and Principe/Social Democratic Party which Pinto da Costa co-founded, and he too has pledged to fight corruption.

Former prime minister Maria das Neves and the country's first female defence minister, Elsa Pinto, are also in the running, both as independent candidates.

Sao Tome and Principe, located near the Equator northwest of Gabon, is one of the world's poorest countries: foreign aid makes up about 80 percent of its budget.

More than a hundred election observers, from the African Union, the Economic Community of Central African States and Portuguese-speaking countries will monitor the vote.

A total of 92,000 voters have registered to decide who replaces current president Fradique de Menezes, who is not eligible to run again after having completed his second five-year term.

Voting begins at 07:00 am (0700 GMT) and closes at 6:00 pm, with the first results expected later Sunday. If no candidate wins an absolute majority, the election will go to a second round on July 24.

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