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Will Madagascar’s elections end the perennial crisis?
Will Madagascar’s elections end the perennial crisis?
Madagascar: From Crisis to Transition
Madagascar: From Crisis to Transition
Commentary / Africa

Will Madagascar’s elections end the perennial crisis?

The first round of voting in Madagascar’s post-coup election has finally come to an end. The polling was largely peaceful. Observers quickly called it “free and fair” — despite large numbers of would-be voters being excluded due to problems with the electoral lists — and hailed it as a major step on the path back to democracy.  A group of losing candidates who had been supported by former presidents Albert Zafy and Didier Ratsiraka have called for the results to be nullified, but they will have to route their complaints through the relevant election courts, which are unlikely to uphold them.

Grave risks remain, however. First round provisional results show Jean-Louis Robinson has won the first round (with 21.1 per cent of the vote) followed by Hery Rajaonarimampianina (approximately 15.9 per cent). Barring a major change in the certification of provisional results, these two candidates will advance to the second round on 20 December.

That will almost certainly heighten tensions. Robinson is the proxy candidate for themouvance Ravalomanana, the organisation of former President Marc Ravalomanana, who hoped to run himself but remains in exile in South Africa. Rajaonarimampianina is the proxy for Andry Rajoelina, the former radio disc jockey who took power in a 2009 coup with the Malagasy army’s help.

Even if the original protagonists are not on the ballot, the proxy candidates represent four years of bottled up frustration and bitter rivalry. With the first round past, the stakes are now much higher. Defeat for either candidate could mean exile or political irrelevance, and economic marginalisation.  Added to this is growing public discontent. Since 2009, self-interested politicians have repeatedly put their own interests before those of the general populace. Madagascar has become increasingly isolated from the international community, with dire consequences for economic growth, development and human security. Lawlessness and deteriorating faith in the criminal justice system manifest in growing vigilantism. In September, a spate of minor bomb attacks in Antananarivo by the Defenders of National Sovereignty, ostensibly protesting the international community’s role in blocking the candidacies of Ravalomanana and Rajoelina, increased fears of instability.

Four years of growing tensions – and an election

Tensions between Rajoelina’s and Ravalomanana’s movements are the product of four years of bad-faith negotiations over the latter’s return. He is now also under South African investigation into alleged crimes against humanity, for which he has been convicted in absentia in Madagascar. Ravalomanana has deliberately turned down an amnesty process that was initiated as part of the transitional roadmap to elections. Although actual prosecution is unlikely, South African courts have effectively grounded him (taking his passport) and scuppered his intentions to return; in so doing, they have enabled the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to renege on its previous demand for his immediate repatriation. But even if SADC had not been involved, the Rajoelina regime was determined to prevent Ravalomanana’s return at all costs, fearing revenge and arguing his presence would be destabilising.

In January, both men agreed to an internationally brokered pledge not to stand as candidates and to accept a “cooling off” period for the good of the country. But at the same time, Ravalomanana brokered a deal through SADC to allow his wife, Lalao, to return to care for her ailing mother. Once back in the country, she announced her presidential candidacy, prompting Rajoelina to claim the “ni-ni” (“neither Ravalomanana nor Rajoelina”) deal was off and that he would be running.

Surprisingly, both Laloa Ravalomanana and Rajoelina were approved as candidates by the electoral court, along with former president Didier Ratsiraka, even though none met the eligibility criteria; neither Ratsiraka nor Ravalomanana had been resident for six months prior to submitting candidate registration papers, and Rajoelina submitted his application after the deadline. In response, the international community withdrew its support—and critically, its election funding—to protest this clear electoral law violation. They demanded the candidates withdraw or that there be a new ruling by the court.

Nothing happened as the timeline for elections in June drew near and passed, with elections rescheduled for August. Then an International Contact Group for Madagascar meeting, in Addis Ababa in late June, witnessed an unprecedented push behind African Union and SADC efforts. (Critics claimed Madagascar’s sovereignty was being violated: SADC’s criticism of the electoral court appeared much more stringent than its more diplomatic positioning on Zimbabwe’s controversial constitutional-court decision to fast-track polls there.) As we described in October, The reconstituted electoral court re-convened and issued a surprise ruling disqualifying Ravalomanana, Rajoelina, former president Didier Ratsiraka and three minor candidates.

The principals’ exclusion resulted in a showdown between proxy candidates. To cynics, this is old wine in new bottles. To optimists, it is an opportunity for new political growth, without the emotional attachments that have become so palpable in the four year-long Ravalomanana-Rajoelina showdown.

Despite a smooth first round, there are no institutional guarantees or candidate pledges to accept the runoff results. Lip service continues to be paid to the interests of ordinary Malagasies, but it is the dynamics within and between the political and business elites and the security services that will ultimately determine the outcome.

On to the second round

Madagascar has a history of large-scale protests when power is at stake. Street-level protests culminated in the 2009 coup, and a similar series of events could sprout from a manipulated or just badly managed election. Furthermore, even if the runoff proceeds smoothly there is a high risk the loser will call on supporters to turn to the streets or ask allies within the military to step in.

The Defenders of National Sovereignty attacks make matters worse. While it is unclear whether the group backs a particular candidate or mouvance, the crude explosive devices (they caused minimal damage and one bombmaker accidentally killed himself) have exacerbated the insecurity. Understandable fears could keep voter turnout in the second round low and thus reduce the legitimacy of the result.

All in all, the chance of a smooth second round acceptable to all Malagasies as legitimate is remote.  How they respond to irregularities will determine whether the country is plunged back into crisis. The logistical problems of holding a vote on a large island with poor infrastructure heighten this risk. Many ballots must be transported overland, an enormous logistical exercise—in the first round, provisional results were not announced until 8 November, two full weeks after voting. Some ballot boxes will have to be left unguarded, as there are not enough security personnel to oversee the almost 20,000 polling locations. Only about one in five stations will have security.

The international community in general should insist that, whatever happens after the second round, the rights of the losing candidate are respected.  Madagascar’s last two transfers of power have involved forced exile. Were defeated candidates to know they would be allowed to stay in Madagascar and might even have a voice in the new government, the electoral temperature would be lowered.

The international community should also use its influence to calm the military, which has acted as an interventionist kingmaker and could again. While a takeover appears unlikely, the 2009 coup was sparked by a minor mutiny by mid-level soldiers that prompted the involvement of more senior officers. Similar dynamics could arise again, particularly if mass protests get out of control and deteriorating security justifies intervention. Such a scenario is unlikely to result in a military regime — the army historically has conferred power on its preferred civilian –  but would most likely lead to further international isolation and continued crisis.

These concerns are hard to manage and tricky to mitigate. Yet the international community must engage and attempt to prevent a post-electoral crisis. The December vote represents a genuine opportunity for a more hopeful and inclusive political order. This is only possible if support continues beyond the elections and translates into genuine efforts to build responsive, accountable state institutions and promote political and economic policies that spread benefits beyond the narrow elite. It’s a tall order in a country where political fault lines and poor governance are entrenched. But there is still hope that Madagascar’s elections will herald a new chapter in the country’s troubled history.

Commentary / Africa

Madagascar: From Crisis to Transition

During the last few months, new options for resolving the Madagascar crisis have emerged in the form of the most recent roadmap proposed by the mediation team of the Southern African Development Community (SADC). Accepted by the authorities and rejected by elements of the opposition, the roadmap remains the subject of debate and there is still no agreement on how to achieve a peaceful transition. In a few weeks from now, the SADC is due to make a statement on the document and accept, reject or amend it. There are other options for changing the course of events without changing the roadmap and these should be explored as quickly as possible.

A controversial roadmap

For more than six months, the de facto authorities have been going about the business of implementing their plans for a transition.[fn]See Crisis Group Africa Report N°156, Madagascar :Ending the Crisis, 18 March 2010.Hide Footnote On 17 November 2010, they organised a constitutional referendum that led to the adoption of a new fundamental law and the establishment of the Fourth Republic. The referendum was boycotted by the opposition and generally ignored by the international community. There did not seem to be any further scope for civil society attempts at mediation between the authorities and the opposition as discussions came to a standstill and the High Authority of the Transition (HAT) announced it was no longer willing to compromise. However, the HAT finally returned to the negotiating table at the end of the year[fn]Discussions began between representatives of  HAT and Ravalomanana’s movement. The need for international recognition and funding were mentioned as reasons for HAT’s return to the negotiating table. Crisis Group interviews, January 2011.Hide Footnote and SADC took centre stage again.[fn]It had left the scene for several months, leaving civil society to conduct the negotiations. Its relations with the authorities were very tense.Hide Footnote

On 31 January, after consulting all local actors, the SADC’s facilitator, former Mozambican president, Joaquin Chissano proposed a plan to end the crisis.[fn]Roadmap out of the crisis in Madagascar.Hide Footnote This provided for a consensual transition leading to elections, inclusion of the opposition in the country’s institutions and the appointment of a consensual prime minister responsible for forming a government of national unity with balanced representation of the political tendencies. The plan made the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) responsible for the entire electoral process. The document provided for peacemaking measures and a broad amnesty. The second part of the agreement covered the international community’s involvement in supporting the electoral process.

The opposition rejected the proposal, which it judged to be too favourable to the authorities.[fn]The opposition believes the proposal allows Rajoelina but not the opposition “to save face” and sees this as a “provocation”. Crisis Group interview, member of the opposition, Antananarivo, 6 April 2011.Hide Footnote The proposal granted many prerogatives to the de facto president Andry Rajoelina, notably by authorising him to appoint members of political institutions (from a list of names put forward by the signatories to the roadmap) without imposing any representation quotas. It also authorised Rajoelina to stand for election.[fn] The proposal requires him (and any other ministers who want to be candidates) to resign 60 days before the election.Hide Footnote The proposed roadmap was revised twice and the latest version was initialled at the beginning of March by the parties close to power as well as part of the opposition that are labelled as “dissidents”. Most of the amendments requested by the mainstream opposition groups were not included in the last version of the roadmap, which the leaders of the three movements still think is unbalanced. They therefore refused to sign up to the process.[fn]The Ravalomanana movement had requested clearer definition of the role of the three movements in appointing the prime minister and wanted clarification about the return of Marc Ravalomanana. It called for the creation of a genuine balance of power with the prime minister appointed from the ranks of the opposition. Crisis Group interview, member of the opposition, Antananarivo, 6 April 2011.Hide Footnote

Shortly after, the government was dissolved and Rajoelina reappointed Camille Vital as a consensual prime minister. This appointment respected the letter of the roadmap, because Vital is not a member of the platform of parties that supports Rajoelina but it ignores the spirit of the roadmap because Vital has always been a faithful supporter of the president, since his appointment in December 2009.[fn]Several HAT members think that Camille Vital is the only person in who Rajoelina has total confidence. Vital has indicated several times that he has no political ambitions and is not planning to stand for any election. Crisis Group interviews, Antananarivo, March 2011.Hide Footnote  A new government of “national unity” was formed shortly after. Although several important members of the opposition (Pierrot Rajaonarivelo and Yves Aimé Rakotoarison) joined the government, Rajoelina retained control of most of the key ministries, appointing faithful allies to the ministries of Justice, Finance, Decentralisation and Mines for example. With Vital’s appointment and the formation of the government, he therefore missed opportunities to display any willingness to compromise.

During this time, the opposition tried to organise itself but was a little divided on what strategy to adopt. Some put forward the idea of creating parallel institutions,[fn]”HAT et Trois mouvances font un forcing”, L’Express de Madagascar, 4 March 2011.Hide Footnote  while others preferred to seek dialogue and clearly indicated this by attending the roadmap initialling ceremony. Some even agreed to initial the document and joined the government. The opposition also wanted to show its capacity to mobilise support and, on 19 February, former president Ravalomanana announced his return to the country. However, he was eventually refused authorisation to board the plane in Johannesburg for Madagascar. Several thousand supporters were waiting for him at the airport. Meanwhile, the three movements sent representatives to the countries of the region to defend their cause as the date approached for the meeting of SADC’s peace and security organ, the Troika, that was due to make a decision on the roadmap.[fn]Marc Ravalomanana even met the SADC mediator, Joaquim Chissano, several times. See their joint communiqué of 26 February 2011.Hide Footnote

Endorsement of the document by the regional organ would be the first step to international recognition of this plan for ending the crisis and therefore towards finding support for the electoral process necessary for credible elections. Although many observers felt SADC’s support for the roadmap would be forthcoming, it did not take a clear final decision when it met on 31 March. Although it indicated its support for the mediators’ effort, it only “noted” the recent proposal of a roadmap and requested an extraordinary summit of heads of state to discuss it.[fn]See the communiqué issued by the summit meeting of the SADC Troika of the Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation, 31 March 2011.Hide Footnote

By not taking a clear position, SADC opened the door to all manner of interpretations and both the opposition and the authorities tried to present the situation to their own advantage. The three opposition movements took this decision to mean that the roadmap could not be accepted in its present form. Meanwhile, the authorities claimed they had been given a green light for implementing the provisions of the document. However, some of their representatives also said they felt they had been “tricked”: after including opposition members in their ranks, they felt the roadmap would surely be approved. They interpreted the delay as a lack of recognition for their efforts and felt they had been “lumbered” with ministers who were not completely on their side, without being compensated by international recognition. Moreover, some of the president’s close colleagues who had been sidelined in the process were not happy about it and criticised him for making concessions. The lack of international recognition could therefore result in the authorities, anxious to avoid the possibility of a coup, hardening their position under pressure from some of their (former) members.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, ministerial advisors, Antananarivo, 4 and 5 April 2011.Hide Footnote

Once again, the rest of the international community reacted in a dispersed way. While some of them took a prudent attitude and waited in silence for the next SADC summit meeting before deciding what to do next, others became more involved. The Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie (OIF) got to work on preparing the elections.[fn]Andry Rajoelina accélère les élections”, L’Express de Madagascar, 14 April 2011Hide Footnote The Indian Ocean Commission (COI) felt that the roadmap could not be ignored in the quest to end the crisis and asked the rest of the international community to get involved in supporting the electoral process.[fn]”La COI plaide pour les élections”, L’Express de Madagascar, 11 April 2011.Hide Footnote  The ambassadors of India, France and Turkey all visited the authorities shortly after they took office.

Need for a balanced solution

The SADC now faces a difficult choice. Its mediation team has formulated an agreement that is perceived to be unequal but which the authorities do not want to amend now that they have accepted it. The mediation team believes it achieved the best compromise possible at the time. Although the opposition cannot benefit from an interminable right of veto or refuse any compromise, there is still a need to make it worthwhile for it to sign an agreement. It seems problematic to revise the entire roadmap, but some measures could be taken to encourage the opposition to join the transition process or at least to form an official opposition, without necessarily amending the proposal.

The main thing now is to reach a balanced solution that gives all actors a reason to join the process. This requires equal treatment for all. If this could be guaranteed, it would then be up to the opposition to choose whether to take part in the revised institutions. Its decision would not then be taken by default, as is currently the case, and it could no longer argue on the basis of an alleged lack of balance in the proposed agreement. Refusal of the authorities to guarantee such equitable treatment would be an indication of a lack of good faith in the search for a balanced solution. Before endorsing the roadmap, SADC must therefore insist that the authorities provide equitable treatment. A number of international partners feel the same way. Although they would be prepared to follow SADC’s lead, they would be more inclined to get involved again if they felt all the parties had been treated fairly.[fn]Some thought that the roadmap was a “capitulation” to the regime in power. Crisis Group interviews, diplomats, Antananarivo, February-March 2011.Hide Footnote

The first component of such equitable treatment concerns the credibility of the electoral process. Although the roadmap contains important provisions on this subject, it could nevertheless be strengthened if the authorities were prepared to make indications of goodwill, particularly with regard to the electoral calendar. The roadmap stipulates that the date of the elections will be chosen jointly by the CENI and the United Nations. Although the CENI has publicly stated it will be able to organise the elections without international financial support in only a few months in order to meet the political demands of the day, some members have however indicated that it will not be straightforward to organise the elections this year even with international financial support.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Antananarivo, March 2011.Hide Footnote

According to the report by United Nations experts,[fn]”Rapport final – Processus électoral. Mission d’appui Conseil à la  médiation de SADC (Tananarive, 30 January 2011 to 11 February 2011)”, United Nations.Hide Footnote eleven months will be needed to organise a credible ballot.[fn]The OIF proposes a period of seven months. “Rapport de la mission francophone d’évaluation du processus électoral de sortie de crise à Madagascar, 9-22 February 2011.”, Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie.Hide Footnote If the authorities were to publicly declare that they accept the need for such a period and agree to abandon any attempt to hold elections this September, this could constitute a first sign of good faith. Rajoelina’s recent statement that the date of the elections will be decided by the political parties[fn]”Les partis dans le flou”, L’Express de Madagascar, 19 April 2011.Hide Footnote is not only contrary to the roadmap but also represents the politicisation of an event that needs to be organised in as neutral a way as possible.

The second component of equal treatment regards the candidacy of Andry Rajoelina in the elections. The authorities find it impossible to consider the return of Marc Ravalomanana before the elections. But as he is the main opponent of the current regime, to prevent him standing against Rajoelina would be contrary to the idea of holding free and fair elections. To compensate for this lack of balance, it would seem appropriate for Rajoelina to also withdraw his candidacy. Moreover, even though the roadmap authorises him to stand, any campaign involving the HAT president would be unlikely to be a peaceful one. Moreover, the possibility that the perpetrator of an unconstitutional change in government might stand for election will send a potentially dangerous signal to both domestic and international audiences and will contravene African Union standards.

Rajoelina’s indication that he will stand for president if he is sure of being elected[fn] ”Andry Rajoelina: “Candidat à l’élection présidentielle si” … “, Midi Madagasikara, 18 April 2011.Hide Footnote raises many questions regarding his willingness to see the process unfold freely. He no longer believes himself bound by his statement of May 2010 about not standing for election because, he says, the international community has not “kept its promises”. This implies that his announcement had only been meant for Madagascar’s international partners and not its citizens, which are however the ones who are really in need of a peaceful climate in which to elect their representatives.

Threats and opportunities

Strengthening the neutrality of the transition and the credibility of the electoral process is all the more crucial given that this period presents many threats, whether the process is supported by the international community or not. Continuing without international support can only lead to the isolation of Madagascar on the international scene and will keep the country in the precarious financial situation it has experienced for the last two years.[fn]See “Madagascar economic update: Fiscal policy – managing the present with a look at the future”, World Bank, 24 January 2011. In fact, although international aid has far from disappeared, current circumstances do not allow the country to take full advantage of it. “Madagascar economic update: Aid effectiveness during political instability – a look at social sectors”, World Bank, 17 March 2011.Hide Footnote It will also mean that the legitimacy of the government formed following the election will continue to be disputed and it will therefore be difficult for it to implement the important reforms that the country needs.[fn] See Crisis Group Africa Report N°156, Madagascar : ending the crisis, 18 March 2010.Hide Footnote Neither can the threat of the government being overthrown in a few years be discounted if the elections are flawed. In a context in which the armed forces have twice expressed their dissatisfaction during the last year, any courses of action considered to be unilateral could once again create the conditions for a more or less violent response.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, military personnel, Antananarivo, February and April 2011.Hide Footnote

If the international community endorses the roadmap and supports the electoral process, it is important to encourage the opposition to participate in the elections and avoid retreating into the logic of systematic boycott, which would only isolate it further and diminish the democratic nature of the process. It is crucial that the next government is the result of elections contested by a broad range of candidates in order to strengthen its representative nature and legitimacy and provide a solid base for a programme of reforms.

Moreover, even if financial aid resumes, the process will inevitably be very gradual and the economic situation will therefore remain fragile. Instead of seeking unofficial financial assistance, the regime would do better to maintain its policy of budgetary austerity and to cooperate with international financial institutions.

Although the transition period faces threats, it also presents opportunities that all actors should seize. If SADC decides to endorse the roadmap, perhaps with some amendments or commitments from the authorities in place, the international community should not adopt an over-cautious approach, or the process would run the risk of failure. It is nevertheless clear that it must be particularly attentive to events and may adjust its support if it observes abuses.

This period is a real opportunity to begin to develop the country’s electoral system and donors should be willing to contribute all their support at the different stages of the process. In particular, the CENI should benefit from this assistance, so that it is able to definitively become financially independent of the authorities and carry out its duties in complete independence.[fn]Relations between the Ministry of the Interior and CENI were described as “not healthy” and as a “permanent arm-wrestling match” by one CENI member, who thinks that the ministry officials want to “throw a spanner in the works”. The ministry had a major role in the referendum, notably the preparation of electoral lists, to compensate for CENI’s lack of resources. In the field, there is apparently not much cooperation between ministry representatives and CENI. Crisis Group interview, Antananarivo, February 2011.Hide Footnote The opposition should occupy the seats it was allocated in order to exercise some control over the process and have the opportunity to comment if they see any deviations from the required standards.

The transition should also allow the adoption of laws that have been in debate for years, for example on political parties, communication and the status of the opposition. These issues should not however be dealt with precipitately and could benefit from expert advice.

Finally, international support should also focus on the development of civil society, in order to help it play its role in the future. This is of course very long-term work but it should be resumed as quickly as possible. As the roadmap indicates, it should play the role of guardian of the proper functioning of the process and it should receive technical and financial support in this task. Its role and its mode of operation in this task would gain however if it were better defined in the final version of the agreement.

From crisis to transition

As decision-time approaches for SADC, it is important for it to focus all its attention on measures that will ensure equitable treatment of the protagonists. Without amending the roadmap, the authorities have the opportunity to prove their willingness to guarantee the neutrality of the process, so that the opposition is free to make a choice about whether it wants to join this transition on a balanced basis. If the authorities reject these measures, it will expose their unwillingness to promote a credible transition and elections. It would also show that they have chosen to plunge the country into instability rather than accept measures that would strengthen the transition. Meanwhile, the opposition’s refusal to join the process could no longer be justified by reference to an imbalance of the proposed solution.

Even if these measures are agreed and the process is recognised by the international community, it is clear that the transition and elections will not solve all Madagascar’s problems. However, they will at least allow the country to set in motion the necessary reforms and re-establish the constitutional order that is indispensable for fundamental change. However imperfect it is, the transition must represent the first stage of a process that will last for years. There is no easy and quick solution to this crisis but it is clear that the next few months must be put to good use in order to avoid compounding the existing problems and challenges.