Greater electoral transparency and participation in Sao Tome & Principe

woman receives voter registration card
Juliana receives her voter registration card, allowing her to legitimately exercise her right to vote. (Photo: UNDP-Sao Tome)

This year, citizens of Sao Tome and Principe must go to the polls to exercise their right to vote and elect representatives to the National Assembly. The National Electoral Commission is responsible for establishing electoral rolls and providing a card to those who do not have one yet, have lost it or have changed residence.

Highlights

  • More than 78,000 San Tomeans have already been registered on the electoral rolls through the project.
  • The goal is to identify 90% of voters who will exercise their right to vote during the 2014 legislative, municipal and regional elections.
  • The Project in Support of Electoral Cycles in the African Portuguese Speaking Countries (PALOP) and Timor-Leste is funded by the European Commission. It ran between 2010-2012, with a budget of 6.1 million Euros implemented by UNDP.

Although the 2011 presidential elections were free and transparent, it was imperative to improve the existing database and organize an awareness-raising campaign to ensure participation of a greater number of voters and a fair and transparent election.

“I’m over 18, and I didn’t know that you could get a voter registration card and vote,” admits Juliana, a young woman from the district of Lembá, on the island’s western coast.

Since 2010, a Project in Support of Electoral Cycles in the African Portuguese Speaking Countries (Angola, Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau, Sao Tome and Principe and Cape Verde) and Timor-Leste aims to support the democratic process in these countries and encourage the participation of women and youth. Funded by the European Union and implemented by UNDP, the initiative also seeks to build the capacities of electoral management bodies.

The National Electoral Commission was able to receive the equipment needed to hold elections: 30 kits, including a data capture machine, a laptop computer, a scanner and a printer, were distributed. Each unit has an external drive for data storage and a long-life battery. Thus, voter information can be entered, saved and stored securely and permanently.

Thanks to this equipment, more than 78,000 people have already been registered. The voter-identification census was conducted throughout the country, under the direction and responsibility of national authorities receiving support from international experts recruited by UNDP.

The project has also helped to institute better legislation on elections and train judges in resolving electoral disputes. A participatory strategy has been implemented to raise awareness about the issues of transparency and participation among national media outlets and civil, political and social society.

Currently, people from rural areas can register on the electoral rolls. Hence, 50 percent of new voters are from remote regions not covered by modern means of communication.

“In order to consolidate democracy, it is necessary to support efforts that promote free and transparent elections in which each citizen, male or female, can express themselves freely and legally,” says António Viegas, Resident Representative a.i. of UNDP Sao Tome and Principe.

The project now works on improving the computerized registration system with the goal of identifying 90 percent of the voters who will exercise their right to vote during the 2014 legislative, municipal and regional elections.

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