By Abel Veiga (AFP) – Aug 5, 2011
SAO TOME — Sao Tome's first post-independence president Manuel Pinto da Costa, the communist-era ruler for 15 years, is poised to retake power in elections Sunday in the small, impoverished African country.
Pinto da Costa goes into the second round of voting after a comfortable win against National Assembly speaker Evaristo Carvalho in the first bout last month, and with the backing of most of the eliminated candidates.
Both men standing in the run-off have campaigned on bringing stability to Sao Tome and Principe, a country of two main islands off western Africa which has seen 18 prime ministers since democracy in 1990 and several coup attempts.
But Pinto da Costa, an iron-fisted president under a one-party system from 1975 to 1990, has the edge after securing nearly 36 percent of votes in the first round compared to nearly 22 percent for his rival.
Third-placed Delfim Neves, Democratic Convergence Party vice president, has urged his supporters to choose Pinto da Costa, who his running as an independent, "after an analysis of the social plan of the two candidates."
Defeated candidates from the Movement for the Liberation of Sao Tome and Principe (MLSTP), Aurelio Martins and ex-prime minister Maria das Neves, have also backed Pinto da Costa, a founding member of the party.
"Pinto da Costa's plan could bring more hope to our country," das Neves said.
Besides promising stability, the 73-year-old candidate has vowed to tackle corruption, a scourge undermining development in the Gulf of Guinea country that is classed as one of the poorest in the world.
"I am going to do everything I can to put the country on the path of development, overcoming instability, poverty and corruption. It is possible," he said during campaigning.
But some observers say his human rights record as president was alarming and a new tenure could herald another authoritarian era.
His 70-year-old challenger Evaristo Carvalho has twice served as prime minister: under Miguel Trovoada, the first democratic-era leader, and for current President Fradique de Menezes, who cannot run again after two terms.
Carvalho is from the Independent Democratic Action (ADI) party, which won 2010 parliamentary elections and is the party of Prime Minister Patrice Trovoada -- a factor he says backs his pledge to bring stability.
"My main objective for winning elections on Sunday is to convince the more than 29,000 voters who did not vote to vote massively for my candidature, which offers the best conditions for stability for our country," he said.
"I know Prime Minister Patrice Trovoada well. I know the government programme of the ADI. All that offers me the opportunity to ensure an institutional relationship of stability for the development of the country."
The nation of 92,000 eligible voters is in almost permanent financial crisis and international aid makes up 80 percent of its budget.
It is one of the few countries in the Gulf of Guinea not to have started drilling for oil but economic and diplomatic sources say this could start in 2014.
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