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Madagascar Finally Has a New President, But Uncertainty Remains

It's official: Hery Rajaonarimampianina, considered a proxy for Madagascar's former President of the Transition Andry Rajoelina, who toppled the country's last democratically elected president in a military-backed coup in 2009, was declared the victor of long-awaited presidential elections by Madagascar's Special Electorate Court (CES).

The CES rejected allegations of vote-rigging and demands for a recount from the other candidate, Jean-Louis Robinson. The two had faced off in a second round of elections in December 2013 when neither won a clear majority after the initial vote in October. Rajaonarimampianina garnered 53.49 percent of votes in the run-off, while Robinson earned 46.51 percent.

Does this mean Madagascar is back on the path to democracy? Are prosperity and peace finally on the horizon for a country marred by chronic instability and a steady descent into poverty?

A straightforward calculation indicates that Rajaonarimampianina would have been elected with barely 25 percent of registered voters using figures delineated in the Madagascar Tribune [fr]: 

Inscrits : 7 971 790 
Votants : 4 043 246 
Blancs et nuls : 171 790 
Suffrages exprimés : 3 851 460 
Taux de participation : 50,72% 
Rajaonarimampianina Rakoatoarimanana Hery Martial : 2 060 124 (53,49%) 
Robinson Richard Jean Louis : 1 790 336 (46,51%)

Registered: 7,971,790 

Voting: 4,043,246

Invalid ballots: 171,790

Ballots: 3,851,460

Participation rate : 50.72%

Rajaonarimampianina Rakotoarimanana Hery Martial: 2,060,124 (53.49%) 

Robinson Richard Jean Louis: 1,790,336 (46.51%)

Screen shot of Hery Rajaonarimampianina during the presidential debate - Public Domain

Screenshot of Hery Rajaonarimampianina during the presidential debate via Malagasy Public Television -Public domain

Beyond that point though, power grabs have rhappened in Madagascar through either street protests and/or military coups, five times since 1972, with the latest in 2009.

Were Madagascar's presidential elections truly free and fair? Will they ultimately lead to a period of peace and prosperity for the country?

The elections were four years in the making and were welcome by most in the country and in the international community. While there were irregularities on voting day, as documented by citizen-based electoral observers Andrimaso and Zahavato, they were not deemed important enough to declare the elections void.

There are, however, some valid concerns regarding events especially during the pre-election period. The first of these events being when toppled President Marc Ravalomanana, his wife Lalao Ravalomanana, former President Didier Ratsiraka and coup-maker Andry Rajoelina were all excluded from the elections.

In what constitutes the setting of a precedent, Didier Ratsiraka and Lalao Ravalomanana were barred from contesting the elections, based on residential requirements, while exiled in France and South Africa respectively, and barred from returning to the island. This hardly seems to be the mark of a burgeoning democracy.

Andry Rajoelina had deposited his candidacy at the last minute, and was therefore barred from running as well. The NGO Verified Voting posted the following explanation

The court said neither Ravalomanana nor Ratsiraka met the physical residence requirements for candidacy. Ravalomanana lives in exile in South Africa, while Ratsiraka has not lived permanently on the island since fleeing to France in 2002.

The court said Rajoelina did not register his candidacy during the statutory period. Rajoelina said in January that he would not run in this year's elections, but then registered his candidacy in May. He said he had decided to run because Lalao Ravalomanana's candidacy was the same as having her husband stand.

The Southern African Development Community, a regional bloc of 15 countries, had recommended that neither Ravalomanana nor Rajoelina run as a way of resolving Madagascar's political troubles. The island of 20 million people has been in political turmoil since Rajoelina, a former DJ, seized power in 2009.

Ravalomanana agreed in December not to run. Five other candidates were also dropped from the list, the court said.

Secondly, in November, a law was passed allowing Andry Rajoelina to campaign for Hery Rajaonarimampianina, despite obligations that former presidents, democratically elected or not, stay above the fray and neutral. A blogger on the Malagasy community blog Madonline suspected Rajoelina also had a hand in selecting candidates for the Parliamentary elections [fr] that happened simultaneously with the presidential elections:

Il est le candidat virtuel et omnipotent de ces élections malgaches, car son ombre plane à la fois sur la présidentielle et les législatives. Il, c’est évidement Andry Rajoelina qui a revendiqué la paternité du candidat Hery Rajaonarimampianina pour être tête d’affiche au second tour avant d’enfanter 117 candidats à la députation. Non, il ne viole plus la loi puisqu’il l’a changé une énième fois en sa faveur. C’est par un décret pris en conseil des ministres que Andry Rajoelina a décidé qu’il peut s’afficher physiquement et sur les supports de communication des candidats. En tant que premier chef d’institution, il se libère du devoir de neutralité et de réserve préconisé par la Feuille de route. 

He is the virtual and all-powerful candidate of these Malagasy elections, his shadow is present both on presidential and legislative elections. He is evidently Andry Rajoelina who has acknowledged his paternity of candidate Hery Rajaonarimampianina during the second rounds of the presidential elections, before birthing 117 candidates for the legislatures. No, he does not violate the law because he has changed it for the nth time in his favor. It is thanks to a law passed during a ministerial meeting that Andry Rajoelina can physically accompany candidates and be seen on campaign material. As the head of institution, he has freed himself from the duty of neutrality and obligation of discretion indicated by the Road Map

Thirdly, there are some indications that Andry Rajoelina may attempt to impose himself as a prime minister [fr] a la Vladimir Putin during the Medvedev administration, hinting that a declaration that Madagascar is back on the road to democracy may be premature, as Tsimok'i Gasikara explains:

 Le camp du président de transition non élu Andry Rajoelina, en passe de remporter la présidentielle à Madagascar, a estimé samedi avoir une majorité suffisante pour désigner le prochain Premier ministre, au lendemain des résultats provisoires des législatives.”Selon notre estimation, nous avons 53 députés mais ce chiffre peut remonter jusqu?à 58 après vérification”, a indiqué à l?AFP Jean de Dieu Maharante, le président du groupe de candidats qui se présentaient sous les couleurs de Mapar, acronyme signifiant en français “avec le président Andry Rajoelina”.

The camp of non-elected Transitional Presiden Andry Rajoelina, which is imminently winning the presidential elections in Madagascar, has estimated having enough majority to designate the next prime minister, the day after temporary results of legislative elections. “Based on our estimates, we have 53 representatives, but this can climb up to 58 after recounts”, Jean de Dieu Maharante told the AFP. Maharente is the president of the group of Mapar candidates, Mapar meaning “With the President Andry Rajoelina” in French.

Screen caption of Hery Rajaonarimampianina and Andry Rajoelina during the presidential campaign via Mandimby Maharo with permission

Screen shot of Hery Rajaonarimampianina and Andry Rajoelina during the presidential campaign. Via Mandimby Maharo with permission

During the election, other unorthodox events happened. The first being the unexplained addition of 140,000 voters to the electoral list between the first and second rounds. Who knows how many voters were suppressed from electoral votes and denied their electoral rights? 

Another unexplained and alarming fact is the murky origins of electoral funds. Money poured in from all sides during the campaign. Electoral laws are not in place to regulate financial campaign. For the purpose of comparison, it is good to note that more than 90 percent of Madagascar's population survives on less than two US dollars a day. However, Rajaonarimampianina is reported to have spent 43 million US dollars [fr]:

Enfin, grâce à son trésor de guerre de quelque 43 millions de dollars, considéré comme le budget de campagne le plus élevé, le candidat a réussi à installer ses relais à travers l’ensemble de l’île.

Thanks to his war chest of 43 million US dollars, considered the largest campaign budget, the candidate has successfully established outposts throughout the whole island.

Famously, another unsuccessful candidate, Camille Vital, saw his donated 350 SUVs blocked at the port of Toamasina. Post-election, Vital, Rajoelina's former prime minister, who backed Robinson during the second round, is not allowed to leave Madagascar. Yet again, another worrying sign that democracy may not have fully arrived in Madagascar [fr], via Malango news: 

Fin septembre, 350 véhicules 4×4 sont bloqués dans le port de Toamasina (Tamatave) ainsi qu'un cargo contenant plusieurs centaines de milliers de t-shirts à son effigie. Les documents fournis éveillent la méfiance des douanes qui demandent des explications. Selon le candidat, il s'agit d'un « un don non remboursable et sans contrepartie » fait par un « ami » étranger convaincu de son programme fondé sur le rétablissement rapide de la sécurité dans le pays.

At the end September, 350 SUVs are blocked at the port of Toamasina, together with hundreds of thousands of t-shirts with his portrait. The supplied documentation rises customs officers’ suspicion. According to the candidate, they were a non-refundable donation by a foreign friend convinced by his policy founded on fast reestablishment of security in the country.

 There are signs that people are exhausted by the long crisis. As reported on All Africa:

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.' 

Only one day after the formal proclamation of Rajaonarimampianina's victory, Robinson was already calling for protests:

All eyes are on Rajaonarimampianina to see if and how he intends to honor his electoral promise to restore stability and work together with the people to lift Madagascar out of poverty. Is Rajaonarimampianina his own man, and can he stand on his own, despite being seen as a Rajoelina proxy? The Malagasy people deserve a government and a president who knows that being elected with only 25 percent of registered voters means he has to work inclusively with other camps, reconcile all Malagasy people, and refrain from a Putin scenario. 

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