13 in Madagascar polls

Nominations for candidacy were confirmed by the country’s constitutional court on 19 October. Three applicants were rejected.

Since coming to power in 2002, Ravalomanana has embarked on widespread economic and social reforms that have stirred the country out of decades of recession.

He has won the support of the Bretton Woods institutions ‘ the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund ‘ who are supporting his economic liberalisation policies.

In 2004, Ravalomanana led a bid for his country to join the Southern African Development Community. The Indian Ocean island was formally accepted into the SADC family at the 25th summit of the bloc in Botswana in 2005.

Although current poverty levels are high, Madagascar’s economic potential is enormous. The country is the largest producer of vanilla in the world in value terms, but its farmers have suffered from perpetually low commodity prices.

With an economy largely dependent on agriculture ‘ which along with fishing and forestry contributes at least 25 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ‘ the island also produces coffee, cassava, bananas, maize, sugarcane, potatoes and rice.

Mining and tourism sectors have shown signs of recovery and the government has projected increases in mineral exports from about US$100 million to US$150 million per year over the next 10 years.

The biggest boost to the Madagascan economy has been the discovery of oil, which has recently triggered a scramble by international oil conglomerates. Initial projections are that the country could produce 60 000 barrels per day in three to four years. With potential revenue of billions of dollars, this oil boom would make the sector the biggest contributor to GDP.

With intra-regional trade in SADC expected to increase from the current 25 percent of all international trade to as high as 60 percent by 2008, Ravalomanana’s policies have placed his country at a vantage point to benefit from the expanded regional economic activity.

He will be seeking re-election to form a new government that will consolidate the gains achieved so far.

However, tension has been rising in the country ahead of the elections. Opposition parties have used the rise in inflation ‘ that stands at about 30 percent ‘ as a campaign weapon against President Ravalomanana’s bid for a second term of office.

The election comes against a background of the controversial aftermath of the 2002 poll in which two rival candidates claimed the presidency, threatening stability and security.

Ravalomanana’s main opponent would have been exiled opposition leader Pierrot Rajaonarivelo who was endorsed as the presidential candidate for the Association of the Rebirth of Madagascar (AREMA) party, formerly under Didier Ratsiraka.

Ratsiraka lost the presidency following the 2002 poll. But he did not immediately concede defeat leading to a seven-month political crisis, which is widely blamed for a 12 percent drop in GDP that year.

He later fled to France in the same year, paving the way for restoration of order on the island.

Rajaonarivelo, who faces prison at home, was unable to return to register for the polls. His lawyers filed papers in his absence, but the court ruled that the law requires the presence of an applicant.

Rajaonarivelo, who was convicted of misuse of funds in absentia, has been threatened with arrest as soon as he returns to Madagascar. He was sentenced to 15 years with hard labour and also banned from holding public office.

Rajaonarivelo served as vice-prime minister under Ratsiraka, who has remained an influential figure in the AREMA party.

Once an independent kingdom, Madagascar became a French colony in 1886, but regained its independence in 1960. The island state is located east of Mozambique.

Madagascar, whose official languages include French and Malagasy, has a population of about 17 million people.

This year, presidential elections in the SADC region were held in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Zambia, the latter on 28 September.

The DRC had its initial presidential election on 31 July while the run-off is set for 29 October. The run-off follows failure by the two front runners ‘ incumbent Joseph Kabila and Jean Pierre Bemba ‘ to amass the required 50 percent-plus-one of the vote, in line with the constitution. ‘ sardc.net.

October 2006
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