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Madagascar's Back on Track - Destination Unknown
Madagascar's Back on Track - Destination Unknown
Report 166 / Africa

Madagascar: Crisis Heating Up?

While the reality and extent of the coup announced yesterday by military officers is still uncertain, the latest events demonstrate the fragility of the situation in Madagascar and the urgent need for a new international strategy to end the long crisis. Negotiations should now focus on international support to the electoral process based on strict conditions.

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Executive Summary

Madagascar is on edge as this report goes to press. On the previous day, 17 November 2010, a group of military officers announced a coup, stating they had set up a “military council for the welfare of the people”. The authorities claim they have the situation under control and that the plotters aimed only to disturb the constitutional referendum taking place that same day. The regime also expresses confidence that the “yes” vote on its proposed new constitution will win handily, though there are already assertions of irregularities. Behind the scenes, some insiders express greater concern about the situation. What can be said with certainty is only that these developments demonstrate the fragility of the long-running Malagasy crisis and the urgent need, as described below, to adopt a new approach to end it.

Madagascar is sinking further into a major political crisis. International and national mediation attempts failed again in 2010, while the population becomes poorer and the state’s structures crumble. The High Authority of the Transition (HAT) has initiated a unilateral process to escape the crisis that is unrecognised by the opposition and the international community – both of which still contest the regime’s legitimacy. Actors who might have helped unlock the stalemate have been unable or unwilling to do so, and some have deliberately dragged out the situation to their advantage. It is time to stop mediation attempts and concentrate on supporting credible elections on the basis of strict conditions.

Since the beginning of the year and the end of the joint international mediation, the effort to resolve the crisis has stalled in a political standoff. The regime’s handling of power is contested, and corruption is soaring. The president of the HAT, Andry Rajoelina, mixes public and private interests in the manner that he forcefully denounced when the former president, Marc Ravalomanana, was in power. The absence of rules and authority that characterises the regime aggravates such practices.

The support of many opportunistic political parties creates a misleading impression of inclusiveness about the transition process the authorities have put in place. However, the regime is in control of what is in fact a unilateral plan and is confident that adequate financial backing is available to support it.

This scenario presents grave risks. If the authorities persist with the unilateral organisation of elections in 2011, the international community will likely refuse to recognise the new regime, and the crisis could last for several years. That would be a disaster for the country and the population. Madagascar is in a precarious equilibrium with a severe risk of social explosion and cannot afford to be isolated internationally.

Mediation attempts aimed at an inclusive transition have failed because of a refusal to compromise, and the time for them is over. The priority now is to get out of the crisis and only then initiate much needed reforms. The objective for the coming months, therefore, must be to organise credible elections with international assistance. That is the only way to restore constitutional order and revive the economy.

The three opposition political movements (mouvances) representing the former presidents are increasingly marginalised, and it is now clear that the regime will not back down from its transition plan – which the constitutional referendum is intended to legitimate. At the same time, the authorities claim they want credible elections, not least to earn back international recognition. For that, they need to offer the opposition the necessary guarantees of a level electoral field and keep to them.

Madagascar’s political actors and the international community should consequently adopt the following approach:

  • The priority must be for the Southern African Development Community (SADC), backed by the International Contact Group, and the de facto authorities to reach agreement that international support will be forthcoming for the electoral process but only provided that the regime fulfills several commitments. These should include Rajoelina’s confirmation that neither he nor his ministers will stand in the elections; revision of the electoral timeline; transparency on contracts; the government not exceeding its caretaker mandate; promulgation of the amnesty law; and an audit of state finances by international financial institutions. If the commitments are violated, targeted sanctions should be reinforced, with the European Union, U.S. and others – acting through the UN Security Council if possible – implementing the African Union’s measures (such as visa bans and the freeze of assets in foreign banks).
  • Credible elections, free of regime control, should be held as soon as possible. The Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) should be fully in charge and given the capacity and resources to organise them. It should, however, be reconstituted to make it acceptable to all parties, especially opposition parties, which should take up their seats on the CENI.
  • The UN Secretariat should quickly send an electoral assessment mission to determine when credible polls can be held, and the timeline should be amended accordingly. Based on its assessment, the UN should then deploy a team of advisers to strengthen the CENI. This team should give robust support, especially on the revision of the voter registry, logistics, training of all involved in the process and civic education. Consideration should also be given to appointing international commissioners to the CENI to reinforce its credibility and neutrality. The UN should coordinate with other international organisations that can provide electoral help. International observers should also be deployed early.
  • The International Contact Group should meet as soon as possible, so that the international community can start acting in a coordinated manner. China, a member of the group, should align its economic position with its official political stance. The opening of SADC’s liaison office in Madagascar should be accelerated to monitor the process, and its special envoy should work closely with a UN political team.

Antananarivo/Nairobi/Brussels, 18 November 2010

Op-Ed / Africa

Madagascar's Back on Track - Destination Unknown

Originally published in City Press

Madagascar, one of the world’s poorest countries, has been mired in political crisis, since 2009, when 34-year-old former radio disc jockey Andry Rajoelina toppled President Marc Ravalomanana in a military coup d’état.

Social and economic conditions are dire. Investment and aid have been cut off. Poverty is on the rise. Insecurity and lawlessness prevail, and in the south dozens of civilians have been killed by heavily armed bandits.  Compounding the deteriorating humanitarian situation, swarms of locusts now threaten 13 million farmers’ livelihood, as well as food security for all Malagasies. 

There is, however, a ray of hope. Presidential elections, which have been scheduled and re-scheduled repeatedly since the coup, are now slated to take place on 25 October (with a run-off before Christmas if no candidate receives more than 50 per cent of the vote). Campaigning officially commenced last week. An internationally recognised free and fair election is key to ending Madagascar’s isolation, bringing back foreign investment and aid, and offering a pathway out of the current economic abyss. 

That’s the best-case scenario; the country does not have a good democratic track record. In September 2011, an election roadmap brokered by the regional Southern African Development Community (SADC) was followed by an uncertain and tentative sixteen-month transitional power sharing arrangement. It did not resolve political deadlock between Ravalomana (living in exile in South Africa) and the transition leader, Rajoelina.

Earlier this year, the political winds looked promising. Both men agreed to withdraw from the presidential race in a good-faith agreement brokered by the international community to defuse the tense political situation. In a matter of weeks, both reneged. Ravalomanana put forward his wife, Lalao, in his stead, violating the agreement’s spirit if not the letter. Rajoelina broke it more directly, announcing that he would be a candidate himself. Another former president, Didier Ratsiraka,, also threw his hat in the ring. 

Remarkably, the electoral court accepted their candidacies, despite all three failing to comply with eligibility criteria. Outraged, the international community refused to finance the vote and threatened sanctions if the three did not withdraw; they refused. An impasse ensued, with the politicians playing self-interested games while Madagascar slumped deeper into stagnation. 

Recent developments have generated renewed momentum. A reconstituted electoral court ruled on 17 August that all three candidates (along with several others) did not qualify and would be excluded. The decision took domestic and international actors by surprise, but unlocked withheld finances and opened the way for the first legitimate elections in over two decades.

But uncertainty remains, exacerbated by several bomb blasts in the capital Antananarivo during September. The disqualifying of popular candidates like Ravalomana and Rajoelina has heightened tensions. Current regime insiders also have much to lose from surrendering power. Former presidents are invariably pushed into exile and it remains to be seen whether the outgoing government will continue to have a stake in the political system. With many uncertainties, it seems unlikely the regime will bow out graciously. 

But in a country where the cynics are nearly always vindicated, there is still cause for optimism. Both the camps of Ravalomanana and Rajoelina have identified proxy candidates. While Rajoelina has tapped several regime insiders, Ravalomanana’s movement will be represented by Dr. Jean Louis Robinson, who served in his cabinet and worked closely with the World Health Organization. There are 31 other candidates, of varying quality. 

If elections proceed peacefully and the Malagasy people and the international community deem the process and outcome credible, the country may have some real hope for recovery. If a return to electoral manipulation is allowed, the crisis will continue and some violence will be likely.

This outcome is not inevitable, but Madagascar’s politicians need to stop playing games and focus on national interests. Only then can the crisis end and the real work of dealing with locusts, bandits, and crippling poverty begin.