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Madagascar – Expert Briefing

  • Madagascar is a constitutional republic with approximately 24 million citizens.
  • Multi-party democracy and an independent judiciary were introduced in the 1992 Constitution establishing the Third Republic. They have been maintained through constitutional revisions in 1995, 1998, 2007 and in the 2010 Constitution of the Fourth Republic. 
  • The country has a semi-presidential system of government with a bicameral legislature comprising the National Assembly and the Senate.
  • The president is elected by absolute majority (50% plus one vote) to a five-year term, renewable once. If no candidate achieves a majority in the first round then the two candidates with the most votes contest a run-off. The prime minister is selected by the National Assembly but appointed at the discretion of the president.
  • Two-thirds of the Senate’s membership is selected by an electoral college and one-third is appointed by the president.
  • The constitution provides for a mixed legislative system combining single-member constituencies and proportional representation. There are 87 seats decided by first-past-the-post and 64 by proportional representation.
  • Follow the election on Twitter: #Madagascar2018 #MadagascarDecides

Surveys indicate that there is a longstanding lack of public trust in the national government, police and justice system.  Governance improved in the 2002-07 period, then began to deteriorate in 2008 and worsened significantly with the overthrow in March 2009 of President Marc Ravalomanana by soldiers from the Army Corps of Personnel and Administrative and Technical Services (CAPSAT).  Andry Rajoelina was installed as “President of the Transition”, triggering four years of political disarray.

Between March and August 2009 multilateral donors (the World Bank, European Union and UN agencies) and the diplomatic community reacted vigorously to the overthrow of Ravalomanana, but in Madagascar the rapid decline in his popularity meant that stability was the prime concern. Both Rajoelina and Ravalomanana were barred from running in the elections of October 2013, facilitating a victory for Hery Martial Rajaonarimampianina. Rajoelina threw his weight behind Rajaonarimampianina in the hope of maintaining influence, and possibly securing appointment as prime minister, but after the election the new president distanced himself from his erstwhile backer in an attempt to gain the approval of the international community.

Rajaonarimampianina was regarded – internally and externally – as a talented minister of finance in the Rajoelina administration. He succeeded in building a ruling coalition, evading a coup attempt and resisting an attempted impeachment by ensuring that certain individuals benefited from his time in office; and, in particular, by associating himself with a narrow group of powerful families and unscrupulous, often criminal elements. High expectations that his election as a legitimate president might help to curtail rampant corruption and improve governance have been dashed amid widespread criticism of poor leadership, mismanagement and ineffective policies. In four years at the helm the president has proved unable to set out reasonable plans to address the grievous economic and social problems of the country.

According to the Ibrahim Index of African Governance, social inclusion, budget management, public administration and the resilience of the banking sector have all either stagnated at 2012 levels or declined further; so too have transparency, the rule of law, civil liberties, judicial processes and property rights. Corruption and the absence of accountability of public officials have continued unabated. Poverty remains deeply entrenched, with nearly 80% of the population living on US$1.90 per day or less; half the population under the age of five suffers from stunting; and the country has one of the lowest numbers of years of schooling in the world.

Sectoral challenges such as insufficient production of electricity have not been adequately addressed. The government’s conduct during the recent outbreak of pneumonic plague in Madagascar is symptomatic of the malaise: its response was viewed as slow and feeble. Only a sizable intervention by the World Health Organization brought a potential pandemic under control.

The government has had some success when focusing resources on core areas of technical competency, for example in managing macroeconomic stability, foreign debt reserves, central bank operations and tax reform. A new five-year National Development Plan was drawn up in 2015. Such measures contributed to GDP growth exceeding 4% in 2016 and 2017. The World Bank forecasts a higher growth rate in 2018 and 2019, despite the prevalence of rent-seeking in the extractive resource and social sectors, graft and money-laundering.

 The constitution and electoral code

All but one president since independence in 1960 has led a constitutional revision, making it a fungible document. Madagascar’s Fourth Republic began with the constitution of 11 December 2010.  This latest iteration is a highly flawed document but efforts to revise it in advance of the 2018 elections have been fraught with political opportunism.

Constitutional problems are structural. In Madagascar, the government – not the constitution – is charged with the defining of jurisdictions and legislation determines how funds are distributed (Article 155). There is a combination of direct and indirect suffrage (Article 5) but the mode of suffrage is not delineated for all elected position types (Article 155, 158, 159). Similarly, there is no clear definition of local governing structures (Articles 147-154), the rights of independent candidates remain unclear (Article 15), and the president wields an unusual amount of power (Articles 58-59, 63-65, 93, 98, 105, 114, 128).  Yet debate in the Senate has not been about any of these important issues: it has centred on Article 47, which states that “the election of the President of the Republic takes place at least thirty days and not more than sixty days before the expiration of the term of office of the President-in-office”. This necessitates an election between 24 November and 24 December 2018, but those close to the president are seeking to extend the mandate of a very unpopular president rather than resolve structural deficiencies in the constitution.

Debate about the design of a new electoral code started as soon as a supposedly independent electoral commission – the CENI – was set up in 2015.  In August 2017, after a succession of workshops and meetings between the CENI and different political parties, civil society organisations and international partners, the government took control of the process through an inter-ministerial committee from which the CENI immediately distanced itself.  A new electoral code was universally viewed as a necessity, but the timing and efforts currently underway appear aimed at benefiting the incumbent and blocking Marc Ravalomanana and Andry Rajoelina from standing rather than rectifying structural concerns.

There were improvements in the electoral code during the Rajoelina period (2009-13), through four critical laws (Law Nos. 2012-004, 2012-005, 2012-015, and 2012-016).  These secured a transition from a multi-ballot system  to a single ballot system, gave a clear mandate for an independent electoral commission, and established an electoral process for the presidency and legislature of the Fourth Republic.  But other important elements such as the voter registration system, registration transparency and accountability, and the cost of access need to be addressed.

The outcome

If a presidential election does take place in 2018, the three most likely candidates at the time of writing are the current president and his two predecessors, Rajoelina and Ravalomanana. Of the three, Rajaonarimampianina has more resources and hence stands a better chance of winning despite perceptions of unpopularity, untrustworthiness and incompetence. Whoever wins will have to face legal and public contestations and challenges. A win for Rajaonarimampianina will produce challenges from civil society organisations, which will accuse him of having stolen the elections.  A victory for Ravalomanana or Rajoelina could well trigger renewed political instability and crisis. A once unlikely MAPAR (Rajoelina) – TIM (Ravalomanana) coalition could form to challenge Rajaonarimampianina and the HVM.

At present, the alternatives to these three candidates do not appear likely to mount a credible challenge. Former prime minister Omer Beriziky is a well-known technocrat who has proven his competence during the transition and has already declared his candidacy, but his support in the capital and the peripheral areas is patchy.  PSD leader Maria Eliana Bezaza may emerge as a new leader from the Northwest (the home territory of the leaders of the First Republic), but she too needs to secure support in the capital and elsewhere.  Randrianasoloniaiko Siteny, a prominent figure in the National Assembly from Tulear, could be a real “dark horse”, but he has not yet declared his candidacy.

Richard R. Marcus is Professor and Director of The Global Studies Institute and the International Studies Program at California State University, Long Beach (USA). His book “The Politics of Institutional Failure in Madagascar’s Third Republic” was published in 2016. Richard tweets as @richardrmarcus

 Adrien M. Ratsimbaharison is Professor of Political Science at Benedict College, Columbia, South Carolina (USA), and the author of “The Political Crisis of March 2009 in Madagascar: A Case Study of Conflict and Conflict Resolution”,  “The Obstacles and Challenges to Democratic Consolidation in Madagascar (1992-2009) and (with Richard R Marcus) “Political parties in Madagascar: neopatrimonial tools or democratic instruments”. Adrien tweets as @aratsimba