The electoral campaign period for Madagascar’s 7 November 2018 presidential and National Assembly (NA) elections will officially commence on 7 October 2018.
The election is set to be one of the most pivotal in Malagasy history and will pit at least four former presidents against one another. The build-up to the poll essentially began straight after the 2013 election, which former presidents Marc Ravalomanana and Andry Rajoelina were banned from contesting under the peace agreement ending Madagascar’s 2009-2013 political crisis. Since then, both men and their supporters have had their eyes firmly on the 2018 elections and a return to power.
While there are 36 candidates contesting the presidential ballot, there is broad consensus that the four former presidents ‒ Ravalomanana, Rajoelina, Didier Ratsiraka, and Hery Rajaonarimampianina ‒ are the clear frontrunners in the election.
Further, the election is a very personal matter for the four men. Ravalomanana beat Ratsiraka in the controversial 2001 election which ended Ratsiraka’s presidency; while Ravalomanana’s presidency ended when he was deposed by the military which installed Rajoelina after a protracted political battle between the two leaders. Rajaonarimampianina, the latest incumbent who resigned the presidency on 7 September 2018 to contest again in line with the Malagasy constitution, has also personalised the election following his repeated, but ultimately unsuccessful attempts to have the other three banned from contesting.
These personal rifts will exacerbate political tensions with a real possibility of violent clashes between supporters of the rival leaders as heightened political tensions in Madagascar are frequently accompanied by incidents of political violence. To date, political events and rallies have been largely peaceful but the official campaign period kick-off and anticipated uptick in rallying activities will increase the possibility of violence.
This threat potential will rise if no candidate secures an absolute majority of the vote. This will prompt a runoff election which is scheduled for 19 December 2018. Given the four strong lead candidates, and the proliferation of other candidates, many of whom are also popular, a runoff is not a remote possibility at this stage.
There are also concerns that the election result will be disputed. The four leading candidates are all highly invested in the election; all believe they will be victorious; and all have a history of undemocratic behaviour. Ratsiraka initially came to power after a military coup in 1975 and stayed there until 1993. Ravalomanana refused to participate in a runoff election in 2001 and inaugurated himself as president, managing to elicit the recognition of the United States (US). Then, as noted, Rajoelina was installed with the help of military in 2009. During his term, Rajaonarimampianina has repeatedly displayed undemocratic tendencies, particularly moves to block opposition leaders. These almost created a severe political crisis in Madagascar earlier this year forcing the High Constitutional Court (HCC) to intervene and force Rajaonarimampianina to form a unity cabinet.
In an effort to avoid a disputed election, the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI/Commission Électorale Nationale Indépendante) has requested assistance from international organisations such as the International Organisation of the Francophone (OIF/l’Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie). CENI has also taken more drastic measures such as banning the publication of public polls as it fears candidates would use polls predicting their victory as a basis to reject the official results.
Besides political violence, associated security concerns include the safety of venues after a deadly stampede at the Mahamasina Stadium in Antananarivo in September 2018 during a football game. The stadium is one of several likely to host major political rallies in coming weeks and few of the venues have the security infrastructure to handle the large crowds expected.
Political tensions in Madagascar will increase in the coming weeks ahead of the 7 November election and potentially exponentially further in the event of an inconclusive result forcing a runoff election. A heightened security presence is expected across the country as the various candidates and political parties take to the campaign trail. A disputed election is more than possible and could lead to a political crisis in the country if not well managed. Historical precedent suggests that in this scenario the possibility of intervention by the military should not be excluded. However, it is more likely that international mediation will be deployed to contain any fresh unravelling that would further imperil Madagascar’s tenuous economic future and development.