Vive le Prezida! Madagascar Presidential Elections of 2018
In November and December 2018, Madagascar went through two rounds of presidential elections. These were supposed to pull the country out of its marasmus of irregularly changing leaders that bedeviled its entire 20th century history.
In 2001, election results were disputed: victory was claimed both by Didier Ratsiraka, the on-and-off President for the previous quarter century, and by Marc Ravalomanana (Marc), the mayor of Antananarive (Tana), the country’s capital. The world looked on at the bizarre picture of a country with two presidents (and two capital cities, for a period of time). Marc eventually prevailed, with the support of the international community, and embarked on an ambitious development program.
In 2009, something of a repeat followed: during Marc’s second term in office, he was challenged by another mayor of Tana, Andry Rajoelina (Andry) who with military support staged a coup d’état. Andry’s rule, however, was not recognized internationally. The economy stagnated.
Elections were finally held in 2013, with proxies of the two antagonists running against each other. Andry’s man, Hery Rajaonarimampianina (Hery), won narrowly.
The 2018 elections featured all four of the above mentioned former presidents among the 36 total candidates, on what ended up being a rather complicated ballot, particularly considering that one third of the population is illiterate. There were a considerable number of alleged spoiled ballots based on incorrect markings denoting the voter’s preference, for example, by markings like “+” rather than the required “x.” These errors were so significant in some jurisdictions that the central authorities had to eventually review and correct some local results.
The first round of elections was marred by a variety of other problems as well. A group of 25 long-shot candidates formed “the Coalition,” joining together to protest against various aspects of the election, including the incomplete and/or obsolete election rosters, as well as the non-transparent sources and uses of campaign financing. Many of these complaints were shared by international observers. Ballot counting was undercut by poorly trained election workers and remarkably complicated post-election procedures. It did not help that the Central Election Commission (CENI) took a long time to collate the votes. The High Constitutional Court (HCC)—using different software than CENI—eventually verified the results.
Only two candidates realized support in the double digits and progressed to the second round: none other than the old adversaries Andry Rajoelina (39.23 percent) and Marc Ravalomanana (35.35 percent). In a traditional division of the country (the Madagascar Darby, as it has been called), Andry’s support proved to be strongest in the agricultural lowlands in the North, the Eastern seaboard and South, whereas Marc polled best in the more industrial Central Highlands, including the capital Tana. Hery, the outgoing president, trailed badly, with 8.82 percent of the vote, but still won outright in the Sava region in the North-East and made a strong showing in the extreme South of the country. Of all the other candidates, which included five women and the 84-year old veteran Didier Ratsiraka, only three topped 1 percent of the vote.
In the run-up to the second round of voting, CENI made important efforts to improve the voting logistics, particularly in training election personnel. Of course, having two candidates instead of 36 in and of itself simplified the voting dramatically. The question was, would Andry manage to protect the relatively slim lead that he held over Marc in the first round? Up to a point, this depended on which way the defeated candidates would throw their support. In effect, they split three ways—between the two leaders, and non-committed. Hery, the only third candidate with any serious backing, stayed non-committed (“ni-ni”). One might imagine, however, where his true inclinations lie, having acted as Andry’s erstwhile finance minister, and his proxy in the 2013 elections.
In the second round, Andry defeated Marc fairly persuasively, roughly 55 percent to 45 percent. The provisional results, published on December 27, were consistent with the final results published on January 8, 2019: 55.66 percent for Andry, 44.34 percent for Marc. Another noteworthy statistic was the participation level which was even lower than in the previous elections: in the second round, it dropped from over 54 percent to just under 48 percent—recapitulating the pattern of 2013, when the first round saw over 60 percent participation, dropping to under 51 percent in the second round.
Not surprisingly, the results were challenged by Marc, the loser, but have been upheld by CENI and the HCC, as well as the significant international observer community. On January 8, 2019, the high constitutional court confirmed the election results and Marc reportedly shook Andry’s hand in court. Andry later told supporters that Marc congratulated him, easing fears of significant post-election unrest. With more than two-thirds of the island’s 25 million people living in extreme poverty, the people of Madagascar and the international community can now focus on whether Andry Rajoelina, the new “Prezida,” succeeds in kick-starting the economic motor of the country.
Karel Kovanda, a Covington Senior Advisor, was part of the 2018 European Union’s Election Observation Mission in Madagascar.