Madagascar's President Andry Rajoelina has vowed stability and growth. Nothing remains, and election season violence rises to a new high.

Antananarivo, the capital of Madagascar

Wow, it was a different era. Andry Rajoelina was inaugurated in as President of Madagascar in January 2019 after an election widely regarded as free and fair. He assured his people he would end the never-ending cycle of unrest. 

The peace and prosperity of Rwanda need to serve as an example. For the first time in Madagascar's history, three past presidents were present at the inauguration, setting the tone for a new political culture based on conversation and cooperation amongst erstwhile political opponents. 

Four and a half years later, in a 67-hectare region of Antananarivo, a riotous crowd prevents a presidential contender from holding a protest. Marc Ravalomanana's black G-Class was attacked with furniture and blows. Rajoelina's orange-clad followers are seeking a confrontation with the white-clad admirers of the former president, who have been taking part in the demonstrations of the opposition "Collective of Candidates" in ever-increasing numbers in recent weeks. 

Days later, tear gas rounds from the gendarmerie struck his car directly, rows of protestors were hauled into trucks by camouflaged security officers, and opposition members were imprisoned. The green, white, and red national flag is used by older ladies to wipe the blood off their foreheads. 

Meanwhile, the United Nations and the internationally representative nations community are voicing growing alarm about the recent escalation of events in the framework of the conflict in Gaza, which has largely gone ignored by the global audience.

The current election in Madagascar is being pushed by the administration with all their might. Everything pointed to an easy win for President Andry Rajoelina when, in February 2023, the National Electoral Commission published the dates for the presidential election at the end of the year. 

The opposition was fractured and ineffective, and the president controlled the government and the majority of the media. The security apparatus of the army, gendarmerie, and police felt reassured when powerful businesspeople from the shadow world openly backed Andry Rajoelina. 

The international community was too distracted by the crises in the Sahel and Ukraine to take a closer look and could only state that the recommendations of the European Election Observation Mission to improve the preparation and implementation of the 2023 presidential election were hardly implemented.

There were rarely any ramifications for the administration of Madagascar. There was no question in the spring as to who of the 13 authorised candidates would wind up with the most votes by year's end. After eight months, it seems less and less probable that Madagascar will have a peaceful, internationally recognised election to choose a new president. 

Andry Rajoelina may be a publicity genius, but his track record in office is less than stellar. There are very few concrete successes to point to from his first term in office, whether it is in the areas of food and energy security, education policy, or the protection of people from all forms of violence. While public institutions like schools and police stations may now be painted in party colours as a show of political unity, the individuals who work there have not received any more funding or support. 

Recently, Madagascar has grown more impoverished and reliant on foreign aid. Instead, millions are being spent on a gondola in Antananarivo, a vanity project whose practical merits are debatable at best. 

With so many potential targets, a political opposition would be in a favourable position. People are taking to the streets, not because of any actual problems in the nation, but because they believe they are at a disadvantage in an election process that is only superficially democratic. 

It involves the misuse of the constitution, the falsification of voter rolls, the creation of millions of fake votes and election offices, the selective issuance of identification documents to supporters of the government, the blatant instrumentalization of independent institutions, the concrete harassment of opposition political activity, and the profiteering of Predator software costing 14 million euros to spy on the opposition. 

The opposition's objection to the terms of this presidential election was late in coalescing. Its top leaders are, for the first time, placing themselves directly in the line of fire of the gendarmerie with the protesters. Many more are starting to feel the same way, especially when news of Rajoelina's hidden dual citizenship became public in 2014. 

The Supreme Constitutional Court of Madagascar upheld Rajoelina's candidature despite the fact that doing so would have resulted in the loss of his Malagasy citizenship. Rajoelina's win is alleged to have been facilitated by the court and, more specifically, the National Electoral Commission.

In light of this, it's evident that the opposition is gearing up to boycott the next election on November 16th. However, the administration is closing ranks and isn't communicating with key actors on the national stage. The election is enforced by the government via a combination of political manoeuvring and the excessive deployment of security personnel. We have a winner this time around. 

The political climate is shifting, but not quickly enough to affect the process. At this time, all the world can do is watch what happens. poll monitors from the African Union and the Community of Southern African States were only permitted into the nation a few days before the poll after the government blocked their entry for months. Given the available time, it seems unlikely that they will be able to take meaningful steps towards holding a democratic election.

Even if the opposition doesn't show up to vote, Andry Rajoelina and Siteny Randrianasoloniaiko, candidate for the Social Democratic Party, will have something of a battle on their hands. For as long as anybody can remember, the latter has been accused of being Rajoelina's straw man, put in place to give the semblance of a democratic process. On November 16th, if the results are close enough, the candidate with an absolute majority in the first round of voting will be declared the winner. This would be the natural finish of a screenplay prepared long ago by Rajoelina's advisors and would imply the nation sustaining the status quo with no genuine chances for progress.

Even after the election, peace will not return. Unions and student groups are calling for a nationwide strike, and there are signs of growing support for the protestors among the armed forces and the courts. Since the democratic scope in Madagascar has lately shrunk to an absolute minimum, this does not speak well for the country's near future.

The author Constantin Grund is office manager of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in Madagascar.
Source: IPG
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