The democratic republic of São Tomé and Príncipe is a small island country located off the west coast of Central Africa. The country was a former Portuguese colony, but gained self-rule in 1975. Independence brought with it the promulgation of a new constitution in São Tomé and Príncipe, which established the country as a semi-presidential representative democratic nation.
Constitution of São Tomé and Príncipe
The Constitution of São Tomé and Príncipe is the supreme law and was first adopted in 1975 after the country gained independence. The constitution is made up of three parts. Part I outline the objectives and principles of the state and dictates the sovereignty of the nation which is bestowed on its citizens. The fundamental rights and freedoms of São Tomé and Príncipe residents are contained in Part II of the supreme law. The branches of government are described in Part III, along with their respective powers and composition.
Executive Branch of Government
The executive branch is made up of the president, cabinet ministers, and the prime minister. The president is the head of state and is required to conduct key appointments, including that of the prime minister, who serves in the capacity of the head of government. After the appointment, the prime minister then proposes candidates suited to serve in the cabinet after receiving the president's appointment as full-fledged members of the cabinet
Legislative Branch of Government
The national assembly is the primary legislative body in São Tomé and Príncipe and is responsible for the formulation of laws. The national assembly is a unicameral (single-chambered) parliament and is made up of 55 seats. All seats in parliament are reserved for elected members of parliament who are drawn from seven constituencies. These elections are conducted through proportional representation in multi-party democratic elections, with successful candidates serving for a term of four years. In São Tomé and Príncipe, the national assembly meets biannually, and its proceedings are regulated and moderated by the president of the national assembly, who is also head of the legislature.
Judicial Branch of Government
The judiciary is mandated by the constitution to administer justice, and its independence from other arms of government is protected by the supreme law or the constitution. The highest judicial office in São Tomé and Príncipe is the supreme court, and it is comprised of five judges who are elected by the country’s legislature after receiving the appointment by the president and serve a five-year term. Another key judicial office is the constitutional court, which is involved in ascertaining the constitutionality of laws passed by the national assembly. Lower in the judicial hierarchy are the courts of first instance, which are located all over the country. São Tomé and Príncipe is a former Portuguese colony and hence the law practiced in the country is based on Portuguese civil law.
São Tomé and Príncipe is divided into seven administrative regions known as municipal districts. São Tomé has six municipal districts, while Príncipe has one municipal district. Each municipal district is governed by respective governing councils, which are subject to elections after five years.
The constitution provides for the establishment of a multi-party democracy in the country. While there are numerous political parties in the country, only four are considered the main parties and whose members make up 86% of all the seats in the current parliament. The Independent Democratic Action party is the governing party and has the majority in parliament with 33 seats. The biggest party in the opposition based on parliamentary membership is the Movement for the Liberation of São Tomé and Príncipe-Social Democratic Party with 16 seats, followed by the Democratic Convergence Party-Reflection Group with five seats.