A New Democracy for Madagascar?

In March of 2009, Marc Ravalomanana, the elected president of Madagascar, was ousted from his presidential position and forced into exile by an opposition party led by Andry Rajoelina. Protests of Ravalomanana’s presidency began early in his second term after his actions became increasing authoritarian and these protests increased in ferocity in December of 2008 after the government closed Viva TV for airing an opposition interview. As the leader of these protests, Rajoelina declared in February that he would be taking over the country as the head of the new transitional government. On March 15th,  after Rajoelina gained the support of most of the military, Ravalomanana “voluntarily” resigned his position as president. This coup d’etat was widely criticized by the international community and resulted in Madagascar being denied international aid and being banned from organizations like the African Union and the Southern African Development Community (SADC). After the creation of a new constitution in 2010, elections were delayed for over three years and only finally took place in January of 2014. 33 candidates were narrowed down to two candidates in the run off vote: Henry Rajaonarimampinaina (a cabinet member from the Rajoelina transitional government) and Jean Louis Robinson (a member of former President Ravalomanana’s cabinet). Rajaonarimampinaina won the run off with 53.40% of the vote.

The election of President Rajaonarimampinaina ushered in the Fourth Republic of Madagascar and the apparent reemergence of democracy for the Malagasy people. While it may seem to be an auspicious event, I have to wonder if it will last. The AU and the SADC seem to think it will. Both organizations have lifted Madagascar’s suspension and are encouraging full participation after the country’s transition back to a legitimate government. There have been positive signs that democracy will prosper, but there are also several conditions that will make democratic consolidation difficult.

On the positive side, although elections were delayed, they were peaceful and apparently fair. The elections were overseen by the Special Electoral Court (CES), the Independent National Election Commission and international observers. All parties deemed the election fair and recognized the results. There was no election violence as the losing candidate, Robinson, urged his supporters to voice their grievances democratically. Another positive sign from these elections is that governmental institutions took a stand and checked the power of the transitional executive. In 2013, Transitional President Rajoelina had declared his intention to run for president (after publically claiming he would not earlier in the year) but the CES declared that because of his agreement in the transitional government his candidature was invalid and he stepped down.

Now to the negatives. Voter turnout for the presidential election was barely above 50% of registered voters. Much of this was due to failing infrastructure and poverty, which prevented people from reaching polling locations. With such a limited voter turnout, it is hard to say that the election of Rajaonarimampinaina was the “choice of the people,” as the new president claimed. Really it was the choice of maybe a quarter of the people. Political participation needs to be encouraged for the democracy to thrive. Another factor that could have a potentially negative impact on democracy is that Rajaonarimampinaina was a cabinet member of Rajoelina and retains close ties to the former leader. In addition, the majority of MPs are from Rajoelina’s party, making it likely he will be elected Prime Minister, and Rajoelina has declared that he intends to run for president again in a future election. Hello Russian politics, welcome to Madagascar.

In addition to political problems, Madagascar has been plagued with increasingly high levels of starvation, unemployment, poverty, corruption, and crime since the coup d’etat. These issues could easily destabilize the new democracy if they are not handled effectively.

Will the Fourth Republic last? If Rajaonarimampinaina can stand firm on his promise of ”changing the course” of Madagascar, I think it could. International aid and investment have resumed since the elections, which should help combat issues like starvation and unemployment. Hopefully increased political participation will follow. Even if those indicators do not show substantial improvement, democracies have developed in similar economic and social situations. In my opinion, controlling the influence of Rajoelina will be the deciding factor in whether Madagascar becomes a functional democracy or a democratic shell.

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2 Responses to A New Democracy for Madagascar?

  1. sorensond says:

    This was a very interesting post. Looking at democratization, it seems that one of the biggest challenges comes from political elites such as Rajoelina who have substantial popular support, even if they would promote democratic backsliding. It is hard to ban a politician who has that support, but at the same time they seek to use that support to undermine democracy which creates significant problems. .

  2. Madagascar gets so little attention world affairs, so I am very glad you posted about it. I have some friends who have lived in Madagascar: one a RPCV and another who interned at the US Embassy there. It seems there is a lot of hope for this quite broken country after these elections. In fact, it is impressive to see what was achieved even when the country was shut-out of regional organizations like the SADC. It was painful to see such an isolated country be even more isolated by such suspensions. Even with low voter turnout and some election related violence (my friend told me about small grenade attacks in the capital last fall), I think there is a lot of promise here.

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