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Sao Tome Parliament Election Moves into Final Stage


Campaigning in Sao Tome's legislative election is moving into its final phase, as accusations of corruption dominate the contest.

Seventy thousand people are registered to vote in Sao Tome and Principe's legislative elections on March 26.

The campaigns by the 10 contending parties were launched last Saturday, with cars driving around the capital, Sao Tome, bearing party flags.

The main contest is between the party of former Prime Minister Guilherme Posser da Costa, the center-left MLSPT-PSD and its strongest opponent, the right-wing MDFM-PCD, led by Tome Vera Cruz.

President Fradique de Menezes belongs to the right-wing party. The center-left party holds 24 of the 55 seats in parliament, versus the president's 23.

Despite the potential for significant oil reserves, and bonus money on a few exploration contracts already delivered, Sao Tome remains very poor because of political instability and corruption. Only two months ago, Foreign Minister Ovidio Pequeno was accused of misappropriating around 500-thousand dollars of Moroccan aid money.

He was relieved of his post and appointed ambassador to the United States. He denies the charges against him.

London-based political analyst Chris Melville explains that the issue of corruption has come to dominate the election campaign.

"Many of what you may assume are the big issues, such as Sao Tome's relationship with the multilaterals, or the development of the oil sector, are of relatively little significance and importance for the Sao Tome electorate," said Melville. "Corruption tends to be the principle issue, with each party bemoaning the corrupt practices of its rivals."

One of the central tasks of a new government will be to work with President de Menezes. Under the former Portuguese colony's political system, the president appoints the prime minister, but wields most of the executive powers himself.

Political analyst Melville says these elections potentially mark a turning point in Sao Tome and Principe politics.

"The coming election is pretty crucial, both in terms of resolving recent tensions between the government and the president. It could result in a new administration, which would find it much easier to deal with President de Menezes than the current MLSPT regime has done. It should also be a crucial indication of what is going to happen during the presidential election later this year," said Melville.

The current MLSPT-PSD government has had a very difficult working relationship with President de Menezes, with prime ministers coming and going, often dismissed on suspicion of corruption.