The European Union today suggested to the Sao Tome authorities the elimination of “inconsistencies and ambiguities” in electoral laws and the possibility of “limited and transparent” foreign funding, among 22 recommendations of the observation mission to last September’s elections.

Observers found that the 2021 legal reform of the electoral law package “left many loopholes and inconsistent provisions that open space for unnecessary manipulations”, reads in the final report of the European Union (EU) Election Observation Mission (EOM) to the legislative, municipal and regional elections of São Tomé and Príncipe, held on September 25, 2022, which highlights six priority actions.

In this sense, the EU proposes to “eliminate existing inconsistencies and ambiguities in electoral laws through their systematic and rigorous harmonization”, to increase “legal security” in all phases of the electoral process.

On the other hand, observers verified the existence of foreign funding, mentioned by at least the two largest parties, Independent Democratic Action (ADI) and Movement for the Liberation of São Tomé and Príncipe/Social Democratic Party (MLSTP/PSD).

“Given the country’s difficult economic situation, the legal limitation on individual donations seems overly restrictive. This limitation leads, in practice, to an evasion of the rules. (…) This illegal and undocumented financing of the parties had a negative impact on the transparency and accountability of the process”, points out the report.

The EU suggests that, on the one hand, “existing financing prohibitions be applied to foreign individuals and companies”.

On the other hand, it proposes that, “to ensure transparency and control, the possibility of allowing limited and transparent funding by political parties or foreign partner associations could be considered”.

The mission considered that the National Electoral Commission (CEN) “suffered from weak institutional authority, mostly due to its temporary and politicized nature”.

Thus, it suggests its transformation into a “permanent body to reinforce professionalism, integrity and accountability in all phases of the electoral process and allow its organic and progressive institutional growth”.

To prevent, as happened last September, citizens from being prevented from voting due to failure to update the electoral register, the European Union argues that the CEN should be responsible for this process, in addition to introducing a “reliable and economical mechanism for update the voter registration, for example, using other existing and reliable data sources, such as the civil registry”.

An oversight body – “for example, CEN” – should be tasked with auditing campaign expenditure reports, with the suggestion that “clear campaign expenditure limits and periodic expenditure reporting requirements be applied to parties and candidates, including in-kind donations,” the report also states.

Finally, the EU wants to ensure the “political independence of the state media from political influence, introducing legislation that guarantees a transparent selection process for its top managers, as well as a clear and effective funding mechanism”.

“I truly hope that the presence of the Union election observation mission will be a sign of friendship and ties of the entire European Union with São Tomé and Príncipe and a contribution to its democratic development in respect for the rule of law and human rights , especially taking into account the regrettable events that took place last November and the investigation of which we will continue to follow very carefully”, said today, in the São Tomé capital, the head of the MOE, Maria Manuel Leitão Marques, at the conference of press presentation of the final report.

The Socialist MEP was referring to the attack on the headquarters of the Armed Forces, which took place on November 25, in which four people were victims of mistreatment and died in custody of the military, and which was described by the São Toméan authorities as a attempted coup d’état. Portugal sent members of the Judiciary Police and the Institute of Legal Medicine to support the investigation.

“The recommendations are for the consideration of the people of São Tomé and Príncipe, with a view to improving processes, and it is up to the elected authorities to act for their implementation. (…) Hopefully they can become part of the political dialogue”, said Maria Manuel Leitão Marques.

The head of the European mission stressed that “São Tomé citizens have demonstrated their commitment to democratic consolidation, with a strong turnout to the polls” and showing “enthusiasm and hope for the future”.

The final report has already been delivered to the São Tomé government and parliament, and, within a year and a half, an EU team will visit the country to verify the state of implementation of the recommendations now made.

The mission ran from 25 August to 19 October and had a total of 40 observers from EU Member States and Norway.

ADI won the legislative elections with an absolute majority of 30 deputies, leading its leader, Patrice Trovoada, to head a government for the fourth time, while the MLSTP/PSD, of former Prime Minister Jorge Bom Jesus, reached 18 seats in parliament .

The so-called ‘Caué movement’ – the Independent Citizens’ Movement/Socialist Party – National Unity Party (MCI/PS-PUN) coalition – rose from two to five terms, while the Basta movement, created a few months before the elections, elected two deputies.

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