Madagascar goes to the polls today
At least 6.3 million people are expected to cast their votes in an election that pits incumbent President Marc Ravalomanana against 13 other candidates at a time when the country’s economy is facing many challenges, with inflation having gone up from 8.7 per cent to 30 per cent.
The candidates include Elia Ravelomanantsoa, Pierrot Rajaonarivelo of the Association of the Rebirth of Madagascar (AREMA) party; former speaker of the National Assembly, Jean Lahiniriko; former church minister, Richard Andriamanjato; and Roland Ratsiraka, mayor of the port city of Toamasina and nephew to former president, Didier Ratsiraka. AREMA is the former party of Didier Ratsiraka.
The candidates are vying for a popular vote for a five-year term. The country’s electoral system provides for the conduct of a run-off in the event that there is no clear winner from the first round.
Campaigning officially kicked off on 12 November and was due to end yesterday.
Initial campaigning was disrupted by an attempted military coup on 17 November, which was later foiled after other army officers refused to join renegade army officer, General Andrianafidisoa.
The economy is a key campaign issue, with most candidates promising the electorate a better and more prosperous future once they accede to power.
The opposition is using a recent spate of fuel and rice price increases to blame Ravalomanana for hardships faced by the poor.
The incumbent president has managed to stabilise the economy, winning the confidence of major multilateral institutions such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.
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 Malagasy 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 industry the biggest contributor to GDP.
Ravalomanana came to power following a controversial 2002 presidential poll when his rival, Didier Ratsiraka also claimed victory and formed a parallel government.
Other candidates, including Ravalomanana, are preaching national reconciliation during the campaign, motivated by a need to avoid the repeat of the 2002 debacle when then president, Didier Ratsiraka, refused to concede defeat to Ravalomananana. The deadlock resulted in the creation of two armies, capital cities and governments.
Ravalomanana urged thousands of supporters who turned out for his first campaign rally on 12 November to keep calm and resist the temptation to react to provocation by rivals.
“Do not react to provocations, it is not worth it,” Ravalomanana told his supporters.
During her rallies, Ravelomanantsoa has called for calm among the electorate to ensure the process was conducive for transparent, free and fair polls.
SADC last week dispatched a team of election observers to Madagascar’s eighth presidential polls since the Indian Ocean Island attained independence in 1965.
The SADC Election Observer Mission (SEOM), headed by the Minister of State for Politics and Social Relations of the United Republic of Tanzania, Kingunge Ngombale-Mwiru, was launched on 26 November 2006.
The SEOM launch is at the invitation of the National Electoral Council (NEC) of Madagascar and is consistent with provisions of the SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections.
Ngombale-Mwiru said the SADC region has so far made significant strides in strengthening the participation of citizens in decision making processes and consolidation of democracy, democratic practices and institutions.
All SADC member states constitutions, he said, enshrine principles of equal representation and full participation of all citizens in the political processes.
The SEOM has this year observed successful elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Zambia and is expected to play an important role in the forthcoming polls in Lesotho in February 2007 and Angola.
Voter registration has commenced in the Angola polls although no firm date has been set for the long-awaited elections.
Ngombale-Mwiru noted that the SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections aim to enhance transparency, credibility of elections and democratic governance as well as to ensure the acceptance of election results by all contesting parties whilst nurturing a democratic peer review process that is positively critical of any negative tendencies of governance.
SADC’s aim is to develop a culture of understanding the need to build democratic systems that are sustainable and mutually beneficial for its members, said Ngombale-Mwiru.
SADC executive secretary, Tomaz Augusto Salom’o, reminded Madagascar to respect and honour the commitments it took upon itself when it appended its signature to regional agreements and instruments of SADC.
Other observer teams already in Madagascar are from the African Union, European Union, Japan, China and the United States.
International donors have also invested in the country’s electoral process to ensure a credible election.
The EU has pledged US$3.75 million while Norway and Japan have contributed US$1 million and US1.1 million, respectively, to assist Madagascar’s Ministry of the Interior, which is in charge of the electoral process.
The US has contributed US$1.1 million to support civic education and observation while China has donated 20 computers, office material and 600 bicycles according to sardc.net.
The run up to the elections has been punctuated by political instability, but candidates have vowed to ensure stability .
In October, several clashes broke out between police and supporters of Pierre Rajaonarivelo, an exiled opposition leader whose announced plans to return to contest the poll were blocked by authorities.
Rajaonarivelo, an ally of former Madagascan president Didier Ratsiraka who was ousted by Ravalomanana after the last polls, was repeatedly denied permission to fly to Madagascar from exile in France.
The country’s last presidential elections ended in violence and chaos when Ratsiraka refused to concede defeat to Ravalomanana.
The impasse split the island in two – with two capitals, two governments, and a divided army – until Ravalomanana was officially proclaimed president in May 2002.