Efforts to Avert Constitutional Crisis

UN Integrated Regional Information Networks, 24 January 2003

Abidjan—Sao Tome and Principe's Prime Minister, Maria das Neves, and Chief Justice, Alice Graca, launched an attempt to avert a constitutional crisis on the archipelago following Tuesday's dissolution of parliament by President Fradique de Menezes, news reports said.

Neves and Graca met de Menezes on Thursday to discuss a possible compromise that could nullify the dissolution of parliament and avoid early elections, the Agencia de Noticias de Portugal (Lusa), reported on Friday. The compromise would oblige parliament to pledge to organize a referendum on some constitutional changes, namely those reducing presidential powers.

A constitutional crisis had loomed after several parliamentary leaders threatened to ignore the dissolution decree and denounced Menezes' actions as unconstitutional. They said de Menezes was headed towards dictatorship, Lusa reported.

De Menezes dissolved the 55-member parliament following a standoff over constitutional reforms. He said in a decree that there was a serious political crisis in the country and lawmakers had used insulting language instead of dialogue with him. Fresh elections, he added, would be held on April 13.

The parliament had earlier approved a constitutional reform package limiting presidential powers which de Menezes vetoed. The main political parties, the Sao Tome and Principe Liberation Movement (MLSTP) and the coalition of the Democratic Movement Force for Change and the Party of Democratic Convergence, (MDFM-PCD) criticised the veto.

On Tuesday, the parties reacted strongly to the dissolution of the assembly. The MDFM-PCD, which backed de Menezes to win presidential elections in September 2001, said other parties had not been consulted. MLSTP officials described it as a black page in Sao Tome's history.

Sao Tome and Principe is an island chain of 150,000 people just off the West African country of Gabon.