São Tomé: Youth leader questions process that prevents thousands from voting

The president of the Pan-African Youth Network has questioned the impartiality and transparency of the election process in Sao Tome and Principe, after the failure to update the voter register reportedly prevented some 8,000 young people from voting. 

“We look with quite a lot of concern because this is a fairly significant number of young people who should exercise their right to vote, a right enshrined in the Constitution of the Democratic Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe,” said Romilson Silveira.

According to the organisation’s calculations, around 8,000 young people who have turned 18 since the last update of the voter register are prevented from voting in next Sunday’s legislative, municipal and regional elections.

“It’s quite a significant number. Even if it is a young person, it’s a constitutional right,” he lamented.

The National Election Commission (CEN) announced in June that it would not carry out voter registration before the elections, as it considered that there was no time for all the procedures within the legal time limits.

In an interview with Lusa, CEN president José Carlos Barreiros said last week that only “an insignificant number” of voters who have changed residence will be left out of the vote next Sunday.

“In relation to non-voters who were unable to register […] they will have another opportunity in the next elections to register and then exercise their right to vote,” added the magistrate who chairs CEN.

The head of the youth advocacy organisation regretted this position.

“It is worrying when the body with the responsibility of the Election Commission, which organises the entire election process until the final ballot, has this kind of public statement, especially in a country where 65% of the population is young. The question of impartiality and transparency of the process itself arises here,” said Silveira.  

The youth wing of the opposition Independent Democratic Action (ADI) organised a demonstration to demand a census, while young people from the ruling Movement for the Liberation of Sao Tome and Principe/Social Democratic Party (MLSTP/PSD) blamed the President of the Republic.

The Sao Tome head of state, Carlos Vila Nova, said in July that the failure to register prevents young people who have turned 18 and citizens who have changed constituencies or emigrated from voting or being elected, which, he warned, represents “a gross violation and a serious affront to the Constitution of the Republic.”

Sao Tome and Principe, Silveira said, has many young people “full of energy who want to contribute to the development of the country.

Regarding the campaign currently underway, with a view to the legislative, municipal and regional elections next Sunday, the leader said he sees “with concern” a “distancing of young people from this election process, because after the election, young people are disowned.

“Public policies do not reflect the wishes of young people. There is a discrediting of the political establishment. Young people are going to vote, but there is a disappointment,” he commented, adding that “all the youth, if not most of them, want to leave the country because they cannot find an alternative here.”

From the proposals of the 11 parties and movements running for the parliamentary elections, the representative said that “there is no great expectation of public policies aimed at youth”.

Issues that concern young people, such as climate change or the question of energy, “are not on the table”.

Young people, he continued, “are involved in the process or in political parties”, but “they are often used to achieve certain ends, they are a lever to achieve power, and then they are disowned”.

“In the decision-making process, they are not taken into account,” Romilson Silveira stressed.