Most of Madagascar's opposition leaders have called on voters not to participate in Thursday's first round of the presidential election, critiquing incumbent President Andry Rajoelina's grab on power.
Ten of the the 12 opposition candidates running against Andry Rajoelina have led near daily, unauthorised marches in the capital, Antananarivo, for more than a month to protest against the elections.
"We reject Thursday's elections and we call on all Malagasy people to consider that this election does not exist," Hajo Andrianainarivelo, 56, told a press conference in Antananarivo on Tuesday, speaking on behalf of a group bringing together almost all the 12 opposition candidates in the running.
Rajoelina, 49, became Africa's youngest head of state in 2009 when he took power on the back of a coup.
He stepped down almost five years as leader of a transitional authority and did not run in the 2013 election, under international pressure, but was voted back into power in 2018 and has since held the reins in a country that remains among the poorest in the world, despite vast natural resources.
Call to boycott or delay
For weeks, police have fired teargas to disperse near daily demonstrations against Rajoelina. On Sunday they fired fired teargas and detained 11 protesters.
The ten candidates, including two former presidents, have urged their supporters not to cast ballots.
"We will call [on people] not to go and vote," said presidential hopeful Marc Ravalomanana, 73, one of two former presidents to join calls for a boycott.
"I will not stand for election, that is very clear," said Hery Rajaonarimampianina, 65, the other former president in the running.
Last week, the head of the lower house of parliament, who leads a mediation group to find a way out of the crisis, called for the suspension of the presidential elections, to ensure "peace" and "harmony".
The situation in the country did not allow for a free and credible vote, Christine Razanamahasoa said.
Opposition leaders say the national electoral commission lacks independence and that the . High Constitutional Court is packed with Rajoelina allies, calling for the establishment of a special court to deal with electoral disputes.
The opposition also says that Rajoelina should be disqualified from running because he acquired French citizenship in 2014. A court ruled that he could maintain two nationalities.
A spokesperson for Rajoelina called the request from parliament to suspend the election a "far-fetched idea".
The outgoing president held his last campaign rally in Antananarivo on Sunday in front of a crowd of several thousand people wearing T-shirts bearing his image.
"I'm going to win, that's for sure, and in the first round," he told AFP.
The show of support for the president at the weekend "means nothing" said Roland Ratsiraka, another opposition candidate, hinting at the common practice of paying people to attend political rallies in the country.
Rajoelina "is lying to himself and he knows it," he added.
The European Union, the United States and other members of the international community have expressed "deep concern" at the political tensions and denounced the excessive use of force against the opposition.
The African Union has sent an election observation mission to Madagascar.
#Madagascar's CENI briefed the Joint #AU-#COMESA EOM, on its mandate, engagement with stakeholders (political parties, candidates, civil society etc), candidates' nomination, voter registration, campaign, voting procedures, CENI's expectations of EOMs etc ahead of 16 Nov election pic.twitter.com/WqQHueHRjn-- African Union Political Affairs Peace and Security (@AUC_PAPS) November 14, 2023
Voters were initially due to head to the polls on 9 November, but the country's top court in October ordered a delay after a presidential candidate was injured during a demonstration.
The date for a potential second round vote on 20 December was kept unchanged.