Votes Cast in the Madagascar Presidential Elections Runoff

Ballot Collecting in one polling station via Andrimaso with permission

Ballot Collecting in one polling station via Andrimaso with permission

Voters in Madagascar returned to the polls today to decide who they would like as president. The first round resulted in two candidates going head to head in a proxy battle between former President in exile, Marc Ravalomanana, and Andry Rajoelina, who toppled Ravalomanana in 2009 in a military-backed coup. Brian Klaas offers a good summary of the situation on DemocracyinAfrica blog :

This Friday, Madagascar heads to the polls to elect a new president and a new parliament. The election is the first major step out of the never-ending ‘transition’ that began in 2009 when Andry Rajoelina, a radio DJ turned mayor, toppled Marc Ravalomanana, a dairy magnate turned president, in a military coup d’état.

Those two figures dominate Malagasy politics, but neither is running for president—at least not directly. Instead, they have put forth proxy candidates in their stead as part of an internationally brokered deal to end the impasse. Dr. Jean-Louis Robinson, a former Ravalomanana Minister and WHO official, is standing in place of his former boss. Hery Rajaonarimampianina, the Minister of Budget and Finance for the post-coup regime, is standing in place of President of the Transition, Rajoelina.

Malagasy voters watched the two candidates in a series of three televised debates. The first one did not attract much enthusiasm, as reported by an article in Madagascar Tribune, as both candidates played it very safe and demonstrated a lack of original ideas:

Nous devons nous demander si les candidats ont vraiment la conviction que leurs idées seraient la solution à nos problèmes ou s’ils se contentent de répéter des solutions génériques que la communauté internationale et autres bailleurs de fond aiment entendre. (Pour être juste, les débats présidentiels peuvent aussi être utilisés pour envoyer des signaux forts pour attirer des partenaires potentiels, ou même des sponsors.) À certains moments, les candidats avaient l’air de répéter les mêmes programmes arrachés de placards à idées – il n’est pas juste de resservir le même vieux « tambavy » repackagé dans de nouvelles bouteilles et puis de clamer que « cette fois-ci c’est différent ». Pour les vingt millions et quelque de citoyens malagasy, cette fois-ci, ça devrait vraiment être différent. Lançons un défi aux candidats de sortir des sentiers battus et de montrer aux électeurs qu’ils sont aussi différents.

One needs to wonder whether the candidates really believe these ideas are a real solution to our problems, or whether they're just tossing around generic solutions that they believe the international community and other “donors” would like to hear. (To be fair, presidential debates can also be used to send strong signals to potential partners or even sponsors). At times, they sounded like standard off-the-shelf policies—it’s not fair to serve old “tambavy” in new bottles and then claim that “this time is different.” For the sake of the 20 million odd Malagasy citizens, this time should really be different. Let’s dare the candidates to think outside the box and show the voters that they are also different!

The second debate was conducted in French, and focused on international issues. The candidates were more aggressive during the third debate. Ideas were still singularly lacking though, as most attacks were personal, as was the case during the entire campaign, whose tone was more carnival than battle of ideas. As again reported by Brian Klaas :

The campaign has not progressed much beyond dueling spectacles. Malagasy politics are not based on policy, and few would claim that they are voting based on anything other than patronage and personality. Today’s vignettes of political strategy—balloons, dancing, and blaring music—are comical, but unfortunately, the comedy may turn tragic if Madagascar does not manage to pull itself out of desperate poverty by building democracy and pursuing development.

The spectacle continues when one considers how alliances were made between politicians – former enemies promptly rallied to one candidate or the other- and how blatantly Andry Rajoelina, supposedly neutral, came out in support of his former Minister of Finance, Hery Rajaonarimampianina :

During the vote, some irregularities were reported on Twitter.

Let us hope the new year 2014 will bring peace and change to Madagascar, whose citizens will have to wait until January to find out the result of the runoff.

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