Presidential Election in Madagascar Compliance or Strategy?

Madagascar House of Senate

A democratic transition of power may mask the hidden ambitions of the transitional president

On January 15, the President of Madagascar ( Mr Rajoelina) declared that he would not run in the electoral polls. “I will not be a candidate at the elections, I will sacrifice myself for the sake of the 20-million Malagasy,” he said in a prime-time TV address to the nation. This decision was initially received as a big surprise, but is now said to be beneficial for the future of the country.

Mr Rajoelina, had ousted former president, Marc Ravalomanana, in a military-backed coup in March 2009 and had heeded calls not to run in the subsequent elections. Since then, he had been under fierce international pressure not to run in the polls. This was seen as a way to end an almost four-year political crisis. The coup led to a range of sanctions, which have crippled the economy of the country, already one of the poorest nation in the world.

Rajoelina and Ravalomanana have dominated the political scene for the last couple of years. Their actions have defined the politics of the nation.

Wise decisions?

The international community has been enthusiastic about the leaders’ decisions not to stand at the elections. Particularly, France, (the former colonial power) welcomed this move, saying it ‘demonstrated a sense of responsibility and was a step forward for the Indian Ocean nation.’

French secretary of state for cooperation, Alain Joyandet, argued that this decision would eventually place Madagascar `on the path to returning to constitutional order and therefore, the support the international community.’’

The pronouncements of both men is said to reflect a step forward and give opportunities for an ‘outsider’ to take over. Hopefully, solving the issues faced by the nation. As Rajoelina himself said ‘I am willing to make a democratic transition’ and on this note, wished the best to his successor.

Behind the scenes

Nevertheless, commenters and strong supporters of democracy should not be too hasty with their rejoicing. In fact, local observers, professors and scholars are very sceptical about this alleged ‘fresh start’. It remains to be seen whether the crisis, triggered by Rajoelina’s seizure of power, has finally ended. While he announced his intention to abstain from standing, he gives the impression that he is not ready to relinquish power. The announcement was not limited to the issue of his stepping down. He suggested that the Presidential elections take place between the months of May and July, with congressional ballots being cast before presidential ballots. ‘Combining the two elections could lead to problems’ he said. It would therefore, change the electoral calendar set by the Independent National Electoral Commission and United Nations Experts. Thus he would remain president across the transition to a new congress, at which point he could revoke his decision not to run. If his proposal is not approved, it remains to be seen what he will do.

He argued that ‘it is necessary to have a vision. I am the solution for today and I remain so tomorrow’. It seems obvious according to his statements that he seeks to retain power and that his idea of overhauling the electoral calendar is evidence of his ambition of leadership of his party. With an election offensive, his goal would be a parliamentary majority, creating a monopoly with full legislative power, giving legitimacy to the coup he undertook 4 years ago.

If he carries out this goal, Madagascar will be far from “a fresh start.” Worse, if no new policies are developed and there is a failure to comply with international cooperation and compliance, the sanctions are likely to only get worse.

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