31 October 2013

Madagascar: Proxy Runoff Looms in Madagascan Presidential Vote

Photo: L'Express
The major candidates in the current election owe their success to excluded candidates Andy Rajoelina, left, and Marc Ravolamanana, right, seen with a mediator, former Mozambican president Joaquim Chissano.

The runoff due in December is likely to be contested by two men who are supported by a former president and the man who ousted him in a coup. Whichever camp wins, it looks like a return of familiar faces is assured.

With about half the votes cast in the election of 25 October 2013 now counted, it is clear which two of the original 33 candidates will take part in a runoff in early December: Jean Louis Robinson, currently leading with some 28 percent, and Hery Rajaonarimampianina with just under 15 percent. Both owe much of their success to two men who have been dominant figures in Madagascan politics for many years.

Robinson was the minister for health and sports under former president Marc Ravolamana who was ousted in a coup four years ago.

Since then Ravolamanana has lived in exile in South Africa. He was banned from running in this election and chose to back Robinson instead. The man who replaced him, coup leader and current interim president, Andry Rajoelina, was also banned from running again. He came out in support of his former finance minister, Hery Rajaonarimampianina.

This means that, instead of making the way free for a new face at the top, there will instead be a duel between two proxy candidates. The election is not about issues, says lawyer and civil rights activist Sahondra Rabenarivo. "The whole debate is overshadowed by the duel between the two camps."

Fear of another coup

Marcus Schneider from the German think tank, the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, visited a pre-election rally held by Jean Louis Robinson. "He said that his first act after being elected would be to make the wife of deposed president Ravolamanana his prime minister," Schneider told DW. "His second act would be to bring back Ravolamamana himself from exile."

That is exactly what many of the islanders fear. Ravolamanana has the reputation of bearing grudges and many people are extremely nervous about his possible return. "We are afraid," Sahondra Rabenarivo told DW.

"Before he was deposed, he owned a factory for dairy products worth millions. It was plundered and destroyed. The first thing he will do is demand its restoration," she predicts.

The coup against Ravolamanana was organized by two thirds of the political class and a large section of the military. They also fear revenge in the event of a Robinson victory and also the loss of their economic and political privileges, says Marcus Schneider.

"If Robinson wins, there will be the danger of another coup," Schneider said. The island's history shows that this scenario should be taken seriously. Madagascar has plunged into chaos many times following elections. After the presidential poll in 2002, civil war-like conditions prevailed for several months.

Nevertheless, many Madagascans are prepared to back Robinson (and with him Ravolamamana) believing this will improve their living standards. More than 90 percent of the population live in poverty.

While in power, Ravolamamana followed a classic neo-liberal course, was regarded as pro-US and pro-China and followed the recommendations of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. "If Jean Louis Robinson comes to power, we will have the donors on our side again," hopes Sahondra Rabenarivo.

Memories of Moscow

If Hery Rajaonarimampianina emerges as the victor in the December run-off, no major changes should be expected as he has nailed his colors to the mast of interim president Andry Rajoelina. Rajaonarimampianina plans to make Rajoelina prime minister, prompting the Madagascan press to speak of a "Russian scenario."

The line-up does indeed bear a strong similarity to the situation in Moscow in 2008 when Vladimir Putin backed Dimitri Medvedev as president in order to consolidate his own influence.

On the economic front, Rajoelina favors a strong role for the state. He says the government should build schools, hospitals and roads but he has not revealed where the money for this is to come from.

'Madagascar is the winner'

The final results of the first round of voting are due on 8 November. If the present trend is confirmed, then Hery Rajaonarimampianina could well go on to win the runoff.

Although he garnered only half as many votes as his main rival Robinson in the first round, the majority of the other 31 candidates favor his agenda and will do their best to influence the electorate accordingly. "What we are all hoping for is a clear result," Sahondra Rabenarivo said. That would make it more likely that the loser would accept defeat.

"No matter who comes out in front in the runoff, Madagascar will be the winner," says Marcus Schneider. The country would have an internationally recognized government and sanctions imposed more than four years ago would be lifted.

All in all, Marcus Schneider thinks there are good reasons to be optimistic. "If they don't make a complete mess of things now, then an economic upswing won't be long in coming."

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