On 17 November 2019, Madagascar’s National Independent Electoral Commission (CENI/Commission Électorale Nationale Indépendante) announced that no single candidate had secured over 50% of the votes in the 7 November 2018 election, thus requiring a runoff election on 19 December 2018. The two leading candidates who will proceed to the runoff ballot are former presidents Andry Rajoelina and Marc Ravalomanana, who received 39.19% and 35.25% of the vote respectively.
While the runoff has long been expected, it is still a destabilising development with the personal enmities and history between Rajoelina and Ravalomanana exacerbating its inherent potential to inflame political tensions.
The two men have been political rivals and enemies for over a decade, peaking in 2009 when then president Ravalomanana was deposed by the military which then installed Rajoelina as a “transitional” president. This undemocratic regime change catalysed a political crisis in Madagascar and saw the imposition of sanctions and the country’s suspension from key international and regional organisations. This crisis was eventually resolved in 2013, with a peace agreement under which Rajoelina would step down and elections would be held. The agreement also banned both Rajoelina and Ravalomanana from contesting the 2014 elections and, therefore, the two leaders and their supporters have been waiting several years for a direct electoral showdown – underscoring the stakes at issue in the current tense political environment.
These tensions have already seen incidents of politically motivated violence in the weeks of the campaign period building up to the 7 November election. While they have largely been isolated and relatively low-level, as tensions ratchet up ahead of the presidential runoff, they could increase in both frequency and intensity. Concern about possible violence led military and gendarmerie leaders to publicly call on the candidates and their supporters to remain calm and avoid political violence. While the statement was innocuous in itself, given Madagascar’s history of coups and military intervention in civilian politics, the security forces’ call underlines worries about stability.
In addition, CENI itself has faced severe criticism from all major candidates for how the election was run and the integrity of the election has come under scrutiny. All major candidates including Rajoelina, Ravalomanana, and former president Hery Rajaonarimampianina (who placed third with 8.84% of the vote) accused CENI of mismanaging the voters’ roll and not addressing irregularities. Further, Rajoelina has faced allegations of bribing officials to support his candidacy, an accusation he vociferously denied.
Rajaonarimampianina and several minor candidates have publicly disputed the vote and called for the election to be rerun. In fact, he and former prime minister Oliver Solondrasana Mahafaly have filed a complaint with the High Constitutional Court (HCC) seeking to have the results set aside. This is unlikely, but collectively the allegations have undermined faith in CENI and increase the likelihood of further disputes after the 19 December 2018 runoff.
If, as expected, the HCC affirms the results, the campaigning by Rajoelina and Ravalomanana is expected to continue. In addition, backroom bargaining is expected between the two main contenders and other key political figures. In fact, whoever can convince Rajaonarimampianina to endorse their candidacy will likely be viewed as the favourite to win. Given the personal relationships at play, this is likely to be Rajoelina, since Ravalomanana and Rajaonarimampianina have a fairly bitter recent history as the latter worked hard to prevent Ravalomanana contesting the election at all. However, as it stands, the runoff election is too close to call.
Regardless, political tensions are expected to increase dramatically and potentially result in more political violence. This will likely be met with a greater security presence across the country. Both candidates, while intending to intensely contest the election, will want to avoid too much violence in order to not give the security forces an excuse to intervene. Further, should the final election result be disputed, this too could fuel protests and demonstrations in major urban areas across the country.