Madagascar goes to the polls to pick president

Published November 8, 2018
Polling official wait for voters at a polling station of Isotry district in Antananarivo on November 7 during the first round of Madagascar's presidential election. — AFP
Polling official wait for voters at a polling station of Isotry district in Antananarivo on November 7 during the first round of Madagascar's presidential election. — AFP

ANTANANARIVO: Madagascar went to the polls on Wednesday to elect a new president, with a packed field of candidates led by three former heads of state pitching their ideas for ending a political crisis and boosting the economy.

Attempts by the most recent president, Hery Rajaonarimampianina, to change the Indian Ocean island’s electoral laws this year backfired, sparking nearly three months of sometimes violent protests in the capital Antananarivo.

The demonstrators forced Raja­onar­i­mampianina to accept a “consensus” government tasked with organising the election in an impoverished country burdened by a long history of coups and unrest.

In addition to the three front-runners, the field includes two ex-prime ministers, pastors and a rock star. Short queues formed at several polling stations in the capital, where the interior ministry estimated turnout was around 40 per cent by midday. In Toliara, the third city in the country’s southwest, turnout had reached 68 per cent, according to the ministry, which added that voting was proceeding without incident.

Rajaonarimampianina is competing against two of his predecessors. Marc Ravalomanana, a milk mogul, ruled from 2002 to 2009 and Andry Rajoelina, a former club night promoter nicknamed “the disc jockey”, succeeded him and was in power until 2013. The trio staged massive rallies over the weekend in the capital, each attracting tens of thousands of supporters.

The former French colony has struggled to overcome political divisions after a disputed 2001 election that sparked clashes and a 2009 military-backed coup that ousted Raval­omanana. Rajaonarimam­pianina has promised “a new phase” in Madag­ascar’s development if elected.

A presidential contender must win 50 per cent of votes cast to win outright, otherwise a second round will be held on Dec 19. Full unofficial results are expected by Nov20, which must then be confirmed by the High Constitutional Court on Nov 28.

“The big risk of this election is that it will return us to an era of crisis,” said Sahondra Rabenarivo, an analyst at the Malagasy Observatory on Public Life. “It’s very important that the results are credible and that the third-placed candidate accepts them.”

Madagascar is one of the world’s poorest countries, according to World Bank data, with almost four in five people living in grinding poverty. Cristian Preda, head of the European Union’s election observer team, said he hoped the vote would help “consolidate Madagascar’s democratic progress”.

Published in Dawn, November 8th, 2018

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