Why Can't Madagascar Settle on an Election Date?

Four years since a military takeover plunged the country into political crisis in 2009, Madagascar cannot seem to find a way out.

One of the critical steps in the consensus road map [fr], an agreement signed by the head of the transitional government and three of the country's four opposition parties that outlines an exit to the crisis, is to organize free and transparent elections. Yet the date of the presidential elections have been delayed and pushed back more often than flights between Newark and Cincinnati airports.

The country has been bogged in crisis for so long that a recurring question among observers is whether the current transitional regime will outlast how long Madagascar's previously elected administrations held office. To boot, the political constitution is in such disarray that the prime minister has stated that in his opinion, there is currently no acting head of state in Madagascar.

What is the hold up anyway ? 

At the deadline for submitting their candidacies to the election, there were 49 declared presidential candidates. With the election date pushed back from May to July to a date to be determined later in 2013, a few candidates have already dropped out of the race while three others have been asked by the international mediation group (GIC-M) to withdraw their names in order to comply with the spirit of the road map.

The three politicians whose candidacies are deemed unacceptable by GIC-M are the current president of the transition, Andry Rajoelina; Madagascar's former two-time President Didier Rastiraka, who served from 1975 to 1993 and from 1997 to 2002; and Lalao Ravalomanana, the wife of booted President Marc Ravalomanana.

African Union representative Ouedraogo explains the mediation group's viewpoint with respect to the Malagasy elections [fr]:

C’est vrai que ces candidatures ne respectent pas toute la légalité, mais la situation des Malgaches est telle que, après quatre ans de crise, il vaut mieux chercher la solution. Et la solution, nous, nous disons qu’avec une pléthore de candidatures – une pléthore parce qu’il y a 41 candidatures – il suffit de responsabiliser les Malgaches, de leur faire confiance, et ils feront le bon choix pour eux-mêmes

While it is true that these three candidacies do not comply to the agreed legal framework, the situation of Madagascar is such that after four years of crisis, we need to find a solution. And the solution might be, considering the plethora of candidacies (41) to trust the Malagasy citizens, let them take charge of their destiny and they will make the right choice for themselves.

But none of the three candidates seem ready to drop out of the race. Rajoelina is seen campaigning in the west of Madagascar in the picture below under the cover of some official event to attend (the presidential campaign is not officially underway since the election date is not yet set):

Rajoelina campaigning in the Mahajanga, Madagascar,  July 2013. Image posted on Facebook by Patrick Raharimanana with permission.

Rajoelina campaigning in Mahajanga, Madagascar, July 2013. Image posted on Facebook by Patrick Raharimanana with permission.

Lalao Ravalomanana has declared in the Wall Street Journal that:

I am running for President, nothing has happened recently to make me change my mind. I am prepared to suffer personal sanctions for my beliefs [..] The outcome all Malagasy citizens want is for an election date to be agreed; nothing more, nothing less. After that it is for the people to decide who they want as their next President.  All forty-one candidates should be allowed to present their manifestoes.

The rest of the candidates urge the Malagasy civil society to take action and do everything in their power to get an election date set once and for all. For that, a petition was launched [fr] and signed by 21 of the 41 candidates left.

The United States has also stated that they are in favor of election that would include all 41 candidates this year [fr].

Who is benefiting from the delays? And who is suffering?

As stated earlier, many observers wonder how long will the transitional regime last and how the country can bring closure to the crisis. The underlying issue is that the current administration is not ready to let go of their power, as illustrated by Rajoelina's campaigning effort.  The longer the status quo is maintained, the longer they can hold onto their positions.

Zafy Albert, an ex-president, stated that one of the main road blocks is the army [fr], the entity that helped put the current administration in power in the first place :

Zafy confirme que le blocage c'est l'Armée mais que des négociations sont en cours

Zafy confirms that the main blocking agent is the Army but negociations are ongoing.

The reasons for holding on a while longer are made quite apparent by a recent infographic published by the OMNIS agency, a state-owned agency that been commissioned to manage, develop, and promote the national petroleum and mineral resources in Madagascar:

natural ressources of Madagascar and the corporations vying for them. Graph posted by  Front Patriotique Malagasy on Facebook, with his permission

Natural resources of Madagascar and the corporations vying for them. Graph posted by OMNIS Agency on Facebook, with permission

The map lists all the oil concessions in Madagascar and the international corporations that have signed contracts to exploit the available resources of the territory. The lack of transparency on the content of these contracts prevent Malagasy citizens from knowing the exact terms of the deal and who benefited from them. Another reason for hanging on to power a while longer is the ongoing lucrative rosewood trafficking.

While the prolonged transition benefits a few privileged ones, it has taken an important toll on the general public. A recent study shows that the political crisis has overshadowed a more pernicious social and economic crisis: while Madagascar was already one of the most impoverished nations, now nine out of ten Malagasy live with less than two US dollars a day. The data shows than there are four million more poor citizens in the country since 2009 [fr].

The following video by Erick Rabemanoro details the impact of the crisis on unemployment, purchasing power and crimes [fr]:

An exit to the crisis at this point is not merely a question of politics anymore, it has become a question of survival for the majority of the population. A glaring question mark on where exactly does the priority of the political elite and the international community stand.


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