Two ex-presidents face off in Madagascar’s elections
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Madagascar goes to the polls for the second round of its presidential elections on Wednesday in a run-off between two ex-presidents, Marc Ravalomanana and Andry Rajoelina, who clashed during the country’s 2009 political crisis.
The two candidates know each other well, having had a longstanding political rivalry. In January 2009, when Ravalomanana was president, the mayor of the capital Antananarivo, Rajoelina, denounced attacks on civil liberties and made himself the figurehead of a protest movement.
Over the course of the following month, the presidential guard suppressed a series of demonstrations by Rajoelina’s supporters, killing around 100 people. After the army abandoned its support for him, Ravalomanana resigned on March 17 and went into exile in South Africa. That same day, the army bestowed “full powers” on Rajoelina.
“This second-round run-off is really a rematch,” noted Gaëlle Borgia, FRANCE 24’s Madagascar correspondent. “It didn’t happen in the 2013 presidential elections because neither could put forward their candidacy. But this election gives the two of them the chance to go face off against each other at the ballot box for the first time.”
Indeed, Ravalomanana and Rajoelina were banned from taking part in the 2013 elections because of the international community’s fears that a showdown between them would revive political violence. In their absence, Hery Rajaonarimampiana won at the polls and ascended to the presidency. But as the incumbent, he crashed out in the first round of this year’s elections, coming third, with a mere nine percent of the vote.
Rajoelina came top with 39 percent, ahead of Ravalomanana, who won 35 percent. According to Borgia, one should not make too much of the former’s lead: “it could be reversed in the second round if Ravalomanana forms the right alliances”, she said.
“They really are neck-and-neck; the outcome is very uncertain, and the presidential campaign hasn’t made much difference to that,” added Christiane Rafidinarivo, a Madagascar specialist and researcher at Sciences Po in Paris, in an interview with FRANCE 24.
Attempting to win votes from supporters of candidates eliminated in the first round, the two ex-presidents have travelled across the country, wantonly disbursing gifts. Indeed, the two candidates share some striking similarities. “They’ve both made fortunes as self-taught businessmen, and they’ve both got a very strong political base in Madagascar,” Borgia observed.
On the other hand, they have very different approaches to economic development in Madagascar. “Rajoelina supports a programme focused on urban planning, with government investment to build new cities and reduce unemployment – although he doesn’t say where the money will come from to pay for this,” said Rafidinarivo. “Ravalomanana, on the other hand, advocates a much more decentralised development strategy, driven by funds from big foreign donors and investors.”
Fears of another political crisis
According to the World Bank, three-quarters of the population of Madagascar live on less than €2 a day. “The country has been impoverished since independence and has repeatedly undergone economic crises since 1960, despite bounteous natural resources,” Jean-Michel Wachsberger, a sociologist specialising in African economic development at the University of Lille, told FRANCE 24.
Whichever of the two ex-presidents comes out on top in Wednesday’s vote, there is likely to be a high abstention rate. “It is up by ten points from the last election, which shows that there are a lot of disengaged voters – one in two voters didn’t turn out,” said Wachsberger.
Just a few months ago, between April and June 2018, Madagascar was shaken by opposition demonstrations, demanding that Rajaonarimampianina leave office, on the basis of allegations that he was trying to silence his rivals before the elections. In order to break the deadlock, the country’s highest court ordered the appointment of a new prime minister and a government of national unity.
Some observers fear that if the results are tight, the losing candidate will contest the outcome and plunge Madagascar into yet another political crisis.
“Time will tell,” said Wachsberger. “There are some very strong grievances in Madagascar that are just waiting to be expressed.”
This article was adapted from the original in French