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May 13, 2013

Political Storm Brews in Madagascar

by Anita Powell

A political storm is brewing again on the Indian Ocean island of Madagascar. 

President Andry Rajoelina, who seized power in a 2009 coup, has reneged on his vow to stay out of a July election that was intended to end four years of political stalemate.  He joins the wife of the ousted president and another ex-president who are also running.

Politics in Madagascar has come to resemble the tropical storms that regularly batter this remote island nation off Africa’s southeastern coast.
 
In 2009, the young mayor of the capital, Antananarivo, toppled the president.  That president was also the former mayor of Antananarivo, and had himself taken to the streets to unseat his predecessor after a disputed election.
 
Now that same political actors will be competing in July’s elections, which are supposed to be aimed at bringing back some political stability.
 
Current President Andry Rajoelina, former president Didier Ratsiraka, and the wife of exiled ex-president Marc Ravalomanana plan to run for the presidency.
 
This cluster of coup-prone leaders on one ballot is worrying, says Lucien Toulou, the Madagascar director for the Electoral Institute for the Sustainability of Democracy in Africa.
 
Toulou says none of the three should have even been allowed to run - Ratsiraka and Ravalomanana because they don't meet residency requirements, and President Rajoelina because he agreed not to run as part of a deal brokered by the Southern African Development Community.
 
“There is an issue around the credibility of the court," said Toulou.  "Secondly, an issue around the credibility of Mr. Andry Rajoelina himself because in January he said he was not for these elections, and now he is saying he’s standing, meaning that he actually cannot keep his promises.”
 
But this isn’t just about politicians not keeping promises, analysts say. Rajoelina’s 2009 coup plunged the nation into economic and political isolation after the international community imposed sanctions and withdrew aid.
 
A subsequent drop in tourism spurred locals to plunder the forests that sustain the island’s famous biodiversity.  An investigation by watchdog Global Witness and the Environmental Investigation Agency found that the instability fed into an illegal rosewood industry that is worth as much as $460,000 a day.
 
The next president, whoever he or she is, will inherit these challenges.  And Johannesburg-based researcher James Stent of Good Governance Africa says the ballot is uninspiring.  
 
“In general, neither three candidates are very good," said Stent.  "Ratsiraka represents the military elite, which has had far too much sway over the country for far too long.  Rajoelina is an autocratic ruler who’s been ruling under an illegitimate mandate for over four years. And Ravalomanana, unfortunately, even though he was democratically elected and had done a lot of good for the country, his presence in the political arena, either through him directly or through his wife, doesn’t inspire a vote of confidence for the stability and the long-term wellbeing of the country.”
 
Stent said observers are concerned about the potential for violence.
 
“African polls, from Kenya in 2007 to Zimbabwe in 2008, have always been fraught with violence when these fractious elites are at play, which is the case in Madagascar,” he said.
 
Toulou says he had seen no sign of intimidation yet, but notes that the campaigns haven't officially started.
 
Campaigning is scheduled to begin a month before the July 24 poll.  Parliamentary elections will be held alongside the first round of presidential voting.  If no candidate garners a clear majority of the vote; a presidential runoff could be held in September.