By: Rafaela Kieto and Vivian Nilsson – van Iperen
The Democratic Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe held its legislative elections on 25 September 2022. The election was disputed between 10 political parties and a coalition, and 123,302 voters voted, of which 50.8% were women. Overall, the country experienced peaceful and orderly electoral campaigns and polls. This atmosphere is confirmed by the attitudes of the departing Prime Minister and party leader of MLSTP/PSD, Jorge Bom Jesus. Although he claimed numerous irregularities had marred the 2022 elections, Mr Bom Jesus said he would respect the results. He urged Sao Tomeans to remain calm while awaiting the validation of the results by the Constitutional Court.
The main opposition party, Independent Democratic Action (ADI), won the elections with an absolute majority, winning 30 of the 55 National Assembly seats, with 36,549 votes cast. Patrice Trovoada, leader of the ADI party, became Prime Minister of São Tomé and Príncipe for the 4th time. Jorge Bom Jesus, leader of MLSTP/PSD and departing prime minister, acknowledged the election results, congratulated the ADI and promised to provide constructive opposition.
São Tomé and Príncipe has a unitary parliament, the National Assembly, comprised of 55 members elected by proportional representation to serve a four-year term. The President, the head of State, is elected to a five-year term and may serve two consecutive terms. The current President, Carlos Manuel Vila Nova, was elected in October 2021. The Prime Minister serves as head of government. The President appoints the Prime Minister “after consulting with the political parties, with the consent of the National Assembly and taking the election results into account.”
The Santomean Constitution enshrines the principles of equality and non-discrimination. While it does not include a specific provision on women’s political participation and representation, the Constitution states women are guaranteed …” full participation in political life.” On September 15th, 2022, the Santomean President, Carlos Vila Nova, promulgated the Political Parity Law. The Law provides a minimum of 40% of seats in elected bodies and cabinet positions reserved for women. Previously, the quota was at least 30% of the candidates on the political list should be women.
Women’s Political Participation
Following the 2022 elections, 8 (14.55%) of the 55 members elected to the National Assembly were women. After the 2018 polls, 8 (14.55%) of the 55 members elected were women. Thus the total number of women elected has remained low. Regarding women’s representation in parliament, fewer women now hold seats. Immediately preceding the election, 13 (23.6%) of the 55 members were female.
In the 2022 elections, Elsa Garrido Graça do Espírito Santo of the Social Democratic Movement/ Green Party STP (MSD PV STP) was the only woman to lead a political party. Despite never being elected to any official government position, Ms Garrido is not unknown to Santomeans, as she was a candidate in the 2021 presidential election. Elsa Garrido is an environmentalist whose campaign was based on three essential points: launching the public debate on the constitutional revision, reform and unification of ministries and environmental compensation and to "fight in defence of our environment and human rights, protest against the introduction of genetically modified organisms (GMO), for food sovereignty and freedom of expression in our country." MSD PV STP obtained 0.34% of the votes. It was among the 4 political parties extinguished by the Constitutional Court of São Tome and Principe since it did not reach the minimum value of 0.5% of the votes required by the law.
There were also other notable positive advances for women. During the first session of the newly elected National Assembly, Ms Celmira Sacramento (ADI) was elected its new Speaker. While referring to the Parity Law, ensuring that women hold 40% of relevant public service positions would be his goal, said Prime Minister Trovoada.
The realisation and adoption of the Political Parity Law was an intense advocacy campaign organised by an alliance of actors, even crossing party lines. The Coalition, comprised of female parliamentarians (current and former), women’s groups, civil society organisations, and female lawyers, organised a vigorous advocacy campaign to adopt and implement the Political Parity Law. The law was passed by a unanimous vote in Parliament.
Beyond political participation and women’s representation, São Tomé and Príncipe has also adopted legislation protecting São Toméanwomen, both at home and in the workplace. Regarding violence against women (VAW), domestic and family violence is prohibited under the law. In 2012, with the adoption of the new Penal Code, domestic violence was codified for the first time in the country’s history. Rape, including spousal rape, is prohibited under the law and prescribes penalties such as imprisonment. São Tomé and Príncipe has also undertaken legal reforms to strengthen women’s workplace rights. These include prohibiting gender-based discrimination in employment and imposing criminal penalties if convicted of such acts. The country has also lifted restrictions on women’s work, prohibiting the dismissal of pregnant workers and increasing maternity leave to 14 weeks.
Just before the 2022 elections, the new Political Parity Law was promulgated, raising the quota from 30% to 40%. The Law was applicable in the 2022 elections as it had yet to come into effect, and the candidate registration period had already occurred. Nevertheless, the Political Parity Law significantly advances São Toméan women's political representation and participation. As one woman noted, "Now we cannot go backwards." What the Law's impact will be, remains to be seen. Women's groups, grassroots actors, and CSOs will no doubt play a role in holding political parties and leaders accountable for their commitments to achieve the new quota.