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Sao Tome and Principe Hold Presidential Elections - 2001-07-29

The tiny central African archipelago of Sao Tome and Principe was holding presidential elections Sunday. Observers say the poll is likely to bring about the return of longtime ruler Manuel Pinto da Costa.

Manuel Pinto da Costa ruled the country from the time it obtained its independence from Portugal in 1975 until 1990, when the country adopted a multi-party system.

Mr. Pinto da Costa governed under a Marxist-Leninist-inspired philosophy for many of his 15-years in power. He is favored by observers to win this election over four other candidates, none of whom is seen as a serious challenge to the former ruler.

The man considered to be Mr. Pinto da Costa's most powerful political rival could not run against him. Miguel Trovoada, the outgoing president, is barred from seeking re-election to a third five-year term under limits set by Sao Tome's constitution.

Nearly half of the country's 140,000 people were expected to cast ballots in the poll. Voters were expected to voice their frustration with worsening economic conditions in the country. Sao Tome's earnings depend mostly on cocoa, a commodity whose prices in world markets have tumbled in recent years.

The islands, despite their beautiful beaches and unique plant and animal species, do not have a significant tourism industry, mainly due to a lack of infrastructure and infrequent airline service. There is hope for economic growth following the discovery of offshore oil reserves. With no resources of its own to develop offshore oil fields, Sao Tome has signed an agreement with Nigeria to begin drilling.