Madagascar: Coup attempt, as referendum takes place

A controversial referendum was held on November 17, 2010 in Madagascar. That event, however, would soon be overshadowed by reports of the most bloodless of the putsches the country has experienced to date.

At the time this article is being written, the putschists are entrenched in a camp and surrounded by government troops, while negotiations are ongoing. Twitter user @Randria_09 linked to a video stream of a press conference held by the putschists.

The coup leader, General Noel Rakotonandrasana, who also led the coup that overthrew former President Ravalomanana and brought the current Transition president, Andry Rajoelina, to power, said that the putschists did not need to surrender, and were in the process of building themselves up. Rakotonandrasana expressed disappointment in the pace at which progress was taking place under Rajoelina, citing that as the reason for the attempted overthrow.

November 17 had started normally enough, with people going to the polls to cast their votes in the referendum which would take Madagascar to the fourth republic. Opposition parties boycotted the referendum in protest over Rajoelina's refusal to honour a pact he signed in August 2009 pledging to form a power-sharing government, though by 10am on November 17 it looked more than likely to be approved. Under its terms, Rajoelina would remain as president until a new head of states is elected. He has declared that he will not seek office in the next election, and promised to hold parliamentary elections in March, followed by presidential elections in May 2011, but few appear to believe him.


Image courtesy Jentilisa

Blogger Jentilisa [mg] shared pics of the election process, which was reportedly rife with irregularities, in the morning [mg] and in the afternoon [mg] of November 17. He noted:

Tsy misy valopy intsony moa amin’ity fifidianana iray ity ary dia tsy miafina intsony ny safidin’ny olona raha ny fijeriko azy satria misokatra ho azy ao anaty vata ny taratasim-pifidianana sasany. Hita taratra sahady ny vato maro misafidy. Mampisavovona taratasy ao anaty vata ilay taratasy aforitra dia tahaka ireny hoe maro ireny ny mpifidy.

There were no more envelopes in this voting process and the voter's selection is not anymore hidden as I saw it, because some of the ballots unfolded once they were inserted into the transparent box. We could see the choices of the voters. The folded papers take a lot of space in  the box and makes it appear as though there were numerous votes.

Avylavitra also reported on the referendum [mg], mentioning faulty electoral cards and disorganization:

Nisy  ny birao efa nivoha maraina tamin’ity androany ity. Ny fanamarihana azo entina voalohany aloha hatreto dia ny fisian’ny hadisoana betsaka Na ny andro sy taona nahaterahana, na ny anarana, na ny toeram-ponenana. Fa ny tena henjana dia ny tatitra avy amin’ny fianakaviana any Ambohidratrimo. Lisea efa tsy natao biraom-pifidianana hatry ny ela ary tsy ao anatin’ny tokony ho isan’ny birao fandatsaham-bato no voasoratra any anatin’ny kara-pifidianan’ny olona. Tonga teny ny olona vao nivanaka, ary nasaina nifindra amina birao hafa.

There were polling stations which opened early  this morning. My first observation is that there were many mistakes [on the electoral cards]: date of birth, name, address. But the worst was the report from  relatives who live in Ambohidratrimo. A high school which had not been used a polling station for a long time and which was not even on the polling stations list was printed on people’s electoral cards. People were surprised when they presented themselves there, and were asked to go vote in another station.

Amin’ireo birao fandatsaham-bato voatsidika androany aloha dia nilamina amin’ny ankapobeny ny fizotran’ny fitsapan-kevibahoaka. Nisy ihany anefa teny an-tsefantsefany teny ny tsy fahatomombanana maro samihafa, toy ny an’ny birao tokony hifidianan’ireo avy etsy Ankorondrano andrefana: ny filohan’ny birao fandatsaham-bato mihitsy, miampy ny filoham-pokontany no sady tsy ao anaty lisitra no tsy manana kara-pifidianana. Birao mifanila aminy eo ihany no nahitana kosa fandraisana ny anaran’ireo olona tsy hita tabilao ireo ka soratana ao anaty kahie iray daholo mombamomba ireo rehetra te-haneho safidy nefa tsy hita lisitra sy sy nanana karatra. Nolazaina moa fa ho entina manitsy ny aoriana noho ny ‘hadisoana betsaka hita ao anaty lisitra nataon’ny CENI’ no antony hoy ireo teo an-toerana.Tetsy amin’ny CEG Antaninena no nitrangan’izany.

In the polling stations I visited today, the referendum seemed to progress normally. Nevertheless, there were a few incidents, such as the polling station where people from West Ankorondrano should vote: even the president of the polling station, and the chief of the fokontany (district) were missing on the electoral list and did not have an electoral card. In a nearby station, there was a notebook in which all information was noted about people who were not on the electoral list,  did not have electoral cards but wanted to vote. They said this will be for correcting future mistakes due to the faulty electoral list prepared by the  CENI (National Independant Electoral Commission). This happened at the CEG (Public Elementary School ) in Antaninena.

Ariniaina, a blogger from FOKO, reported the results of an online survey she conducted on the referendum:

YES, they wanted to vote because it is their right and their duty to do so. So that they would be able to express their voice. One person said that they did not really want to vote but they heard that there would be a sanction for those who did not.

For the NO side, the reason can be divided into 3 groups. The first group said that they would not have time for this, they would not be able to do this (because they live abroad), they were not interested in it, or they did not feel involved, they did not understand the reason of this referendum, it was just nonsense. The second group is people who believed that this referendum was a way to legalize the current regime and the YES is anyway sure to win. The third group is convinced that the current situation of Madagascar, the political crisis and the social problems are not opportune for the holding of an election now and would not bring proper solutions to all the issues.

The attempted coup took place around 1:00 p.m. (Madagascar time GMT+3). Around 20 military officers in a military base near the airport in the capital summoned journalist to a meeting to announce they were seizing power. Among their demands was the release of all political prisoners and the return of all leaders in exile, including the deposed former president, Marc Ravalomanana.

Andry wrote on his blog, the Cyber Observer:

Yesterday around 01.00pm at the BANI (Air Force) military camp of Ivato (suburb of Antananarivo), 18 high ranked officers from the Army, the Gendarmerie and the Police released a communiqué in which they declared that the HAT was dissolved and replaced by a new military committee which has been set up to run the country, that general secretaries had to run their respective ministries instead of ministers, and that all the state organs were under their control. They also invited the other officers to join them and commanded to all soldiers to go back and stay in their camps of origin.

At the time of this article, the putschists seemed to have lost momentum. Andry Rajoelina was still negotiating with the putschists, and Reuters wondered if he would have to offer the putschists some cushy positions in the government to resolve the problem.

Meanwhile, unsubstantiated rumors circulated on the Internet of the imminent return of Didier Ratsiraka, a former President who had kept close ties to the military. AngloMalagasy tweeted:

“Sobika reports that there have been indications that Didier Ratsiraka intends to return to #Madagascar later this week”

And lest anyone had forgotten that there had been a referendum that day, the provisional results, with “Yes” in a strong lead position, were reported by Twitter user Thierry Andriamirado [fr],

“Résultats intermédiaires de (3433?) bureaux de vote #Référendum #Madagascar : Oui: 71% Non: 28%”

“Provisional results of 3433? polling stations #referendum # Madagascar are : 71% Yes, and 28% No”


  • while reading you, I just realized it ain’t easy to stand back and try to have a more summarized view of what’s going on here in Madagascar.

    Interesting to note that everytime journalists or bloggers refer to this so-called “coup”, they always refer to the referendum…Kill two birds with one stone – and have reporters record and broadcast the show … If one wanted to get high exposure for the referendum happening in Madagascar, then they have more than achieved … Now, all eyes on Madagascar so that all the “subtle messages” can be relayed through all major media outlets (without even having to pay for expensive ads) …

  • Eileen

    Thank you for this post. I appreciate being able to read what is going on in Madagascar. Please keep writing. Also, what are putsches or putschists?

    Thank you!

  • […] updates kept the internet abreast of the failed coup that started on the day of the referendum, November 17.  Back in 2009, twitter already played an […]

  • […] Madagascar is going through a turbulent time. After 20 months of regime change the return to constitutional order was anticipated. A heavily disputed referendum on the new constitutional proposal was held on the 17th of November. The election process was marred by irregularities and finally it was overshadowed by a failed coup attempt. […]

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