Madagascar is in a deep crisis. Since 2009 the island state has been ruled by a controversial interim president. A court ruling has now opened the way for long overdue elections.
The people of the Indian Ocean island state of Madagascar should have gone to the polls back in 2009, the year in which their country's ongoing political crisis escalated. The government of President Marc Ravolamanana had become an object of hatred for many because of widespread bribery and corruption. There were violent demonstrations and, backed by the army, Andry Rajoelina ousted the unpopular ruler and declared himself the new interim president. The former mayor of the capital Antananarivo promised swift elections - but that promise has yet to be fulfilled.
"Politics are blocked," says Jean Eric Rakotoarisoa, an expert in constitutional law at the university of Antananarivo. Supporters of the interim president and of the Ravalomanana Movement who back the ousted president appear irreconcilable.
A road map signed in 2011 as the result of international pressure has had no effect. One of its main demands: presidential elections. However the date has been repeatedly postponed as arguments raged over who should be allowed to run for president.
Controversial candidates barred
A court ruling has now raised hopes that the blockade could soon end. On Saturday (17.08.2013) the country's electoral court, known by its French acronym CES, ruled that three particularly controversial candidates and another five more were ineligible. The three are the 39-year-old interim president Andry Rajoelina, Lalao Ravolamanana, the wife of the man he replaced, and former president Didier Ratsiraka, who was ousted in 2002.
These three were mainly responsible for the cancellation of the last elections, originally planned for July 24, 2013. After a long period of uncertainty, both Rajoelina and Ravolamanana agreed to renounce their candidacy. However Ravolamanana's wife then stepped in and Rajoelina decided to stand after all, albeit long after the deadline had passed. The CES should not have accepted this.
Lalao Ravalomanana also did not fulfill the conditions. She lived with her husband in exile, but all presidential hopefuls must have lived in Madagascar for at at least 6 months before declaring their candidacy. This also applies to ex-President Didier Ratsiraka who lived in exile in France until recently. But despite this, all three names appeared on the list of candidates published by the CES in May 2013.
The decision to strike these names off the list came as a result of international pressure.
The Southern Africa Development Community (SADC), and the African Union (AU) had repeatedly said they would not support or recognize the elections, should the three controversial candidates remain in the race. The SADC and the European Union (EU) threatened to impose sanctions. The interim president bowed to the pressure and took steps to reorganize the CES. Then came the decision to ban the candidates, since all three had violated the laws of the country. The SADC and the AU welcomed the decision.
So does this finally open the way for presidential elections? While some observers believe it does, others, such as political analyst Toavina Ralambomahay, are skeptical. People in Madagascar have been optimistic too often, he told DW. For example, after the signing of the road map in 2009, and then when elections were announced first for May and then for July. "Ahead of July 24, we asked ourselves whether the election really would go ahead or if it would be cancelled yet again," Ralambomahay said. "We'll ask the same question every time a date is announced."
Lack of unity
Two years ago Ralambomahay published a book called "Madagascar Dans une Crise Interminable" (Madagascar in an endless crisis). For him, the crisis is still not over. The country's economy is growing much slower than in other states in the region. More than 90 percent of the population live on less than one euro 50 cents ($2) a day.
The decision to bar the three candidates has not gone down well with everyone, Ralambomahay told DW. "We are simply not united." He observes three forces moving in different directions. "The first group wants elections under the present conditions. It is made up of the international community and some groupings here in Madagascar." However, supporters of President Ravalomanana - the second group - do not accept his expulsion from the election.
The third group wants to bring Rajoelina and Ravalomanana, as well as former leaders Ratsiraka and Albert Zafy (president from March 1993 to September 1996), together for talks. The four represent the main political currents in Madagascar. All reconciliation efforts so far have not borne fruit.
Elections in October?
For Beatrice Atallah, head of the election authority CENIT, Madagascar's salvation depends on "a credible and transparent election that is accepted by all, including the international community."
CENIT is responsible for the technical organization of elections. Once the list of candidates is finalized and the international community gives the green light, there are no more obstacles. Atallah says it would be possible to hold elections as early as October. "CENIT is ready," she told DW.
But first a number of questions still have to be answered. How will the barred candidates and their supporters react? Will they put forward substitutes? Could there be conflict between the rival camps? Madagascar's long journey towards elections is not over yet.