17 January 2014

Madagascar Awaits the Final Verdict On Its Elections


Ever since the second round of voting in presidential elections in the southern African island state on 20 December 2013, observers have been holding their breath to see how the political actors in that country behave after the announcement of the results.

It was not entirely unexpected that the losing candidate, Jean-Louis Robinson, supported by ousted former president Marc Ravalomanana, would cry foul when the announcement came on 3 January 2014 that his opponent, former finance minister Hery Rajaonarimampianina, has won the election with 53,5% of the vote.

Robinson is insisting on a recount of all four million ballots cast and is alleging massive fraud, despite a thumbs-up from most observers regarding the legality of the poll.

Today, Friday 17 January, Madagascar's special electoral court (SEC) is expected to announce its final verdict, following the complaints by Robinson's camp.

However, all indications are that, if anything, there won't be a recount of all the votes. The 71-year-old former minister Robinson also seems to anticipate that the special court will not decide in his favour.

This week, he lodged a complaint with the African Union (AU) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) about the alleged election irregularities.

The question is whether ordinary Malagasies are equally outraged at Robinson's loss during the elections. Will they take to the streets en masse to support him? Will they risk everything to bring the country to a standstill to prevent Rajaonarimampianina from becoming president?

It will not be the first time that the people of Madagascar are called upon to do so. In 2002, former president Ravalomanana led a massive popular revolt against the supporters of former president Didier Ratsiraka, who refused to leave power.

The result was an eight-month standoff that paralysed the country and brought the economy to its knees. Finally, after countless marches, acts of sabotage against public buildings and work stoppages, Ratsiraka fled the island and Ravalomanana was sworn in as president in May 2002.

So Malagasies are capable of doing this - going to the streets to support a leader - but they probably won't. From being a relatively prosperous, albeit low-income country that thrives on tourism and burgeoning agro-industries, political strife has ruined Madagascar's economy in the last few decades.

The coup d'état by Andry Rajoelina in March 2009 only made matters worse, and today poverty and malnutrition is at the door of almost every household in Madagascar.

According to the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) 92% of people in Madagascar live on less than US$2 per day. In total, four million inhabitants were food-insecure in 2013, according to the WFP.

People might also be tired of interminable political disputes. Some indication of this, and of people's disillusionment with their current leadership, is the low voter turnout during the December elections, which was just over 50%.

Paul-Simon Handy, Head of the ISS Conflict Prevention and Risk Analysis Division, says the low voter turnout in the second round is reminiscent of other post-crisis countries where the electorate is exhausted by protracted political disputes.

'As much as people want a legitimate government, they've simply had enough of political disputes and they see that what is on offer in terms of candidates as the recycling of the same political elite.' The legislative elections in Mali held in November last year, where only 38% of the electorate turned up to vote, can be ascribed to these same factors.

'One could ask yourself whether it is really the same people who participated in the earlier presidential elections [in July 2013].'

Given that most election observers declared the election free and fair, it might be unlikely that the AU will mobilise vast resources to support an electoral dispute in Madagascar.

On the contrary, reports from Namibia indicate that moves are already being made to welcome Madagascar back into the fold after being expelled from the organisation in 2009.

Handy believes that whatever the outcome of the decision by the SEC and the reaction of the opposition, it is clear that it will take a huge effort to break the cycle of violence and instability that has plagued Madagascar for so long now. Much will have to be done by the new president to ensure that Madagascar enjoys long-term political stability.

'This election might be a way out of the crisis, but it is still just that, a way out. I don't think Madagascar has yet found the necessary appeasement to ensure a stable future.

It simply does not have the institutions to manage the political and economic power in the country in a consensual fashion,' he says.

Madagascar's winner-takes-all system is particularly unhelpful in a society marked by deep ethnic and regional cleavages, Handy believes.

These come to the fore as soon as there is a political dispute and filter down to decision-making at local level. 'In that way, Madagascar is typical of many African countries,' says Handy.

On a national level many unwritten rules make provision for the complex power balance in the country, such as the unstated provision that the president and prime minister would not be from the same region or grouping.

However, this is clearly not enough to ensure an inclusive and mature political system. SADC and the AU should do everything possible to help Madagascar find a consensual system, he says.

For now, Handy believes the fact that former president Marc Ravalomanana is still in exile in South Africa, convinced that his candidate, Robinson, was robbed of an election victory, is still a sword hanging over the political process in Madagascar. 'Ravalomanana is too young and ambitious to just let it go,' says Handy. 'He will do everything possible to get back into power.'

Speculation is rife that the MPs of Rajaonarimampianina's camp, who were united before the elections under the banner MAPAR, will nominate Rajoelina as prime minister.

That would confirm the 'Putin-scenario' that many observers had predicted after the special electoral court excluded both Rajoelina and Ravalomanana from running for the presidency last year.

If this happens, it will be a blow to the credibility of the new government that will have a lot on its plate to rebuild the country after a crisis that has lasted far too long.

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