Presidential election in Madagascar: vote under tension, opposition boycott

The day after a night of curfew in the capital Antananarivo, Madagascar voted peacefully on Thursday November 16 during the first round of its presidential election, in a context of strong tensions between the camp of the outgoing president, Andry Rajoelina, confident of take away, and ten opposition candidates who called for a boycott

Presidential election in Madagascar: vote under tension, opposition boycott

The day after a night of curfew in the capital Antananarivo, Madagascar voted peacefully on Thursday November 16 during the first round of its presidential election, in a context of strong tensions between the camp of the outgoing president, Andry Rajoelina, confident of take away, and ten opposition candidates who called for a boycott.

One of the main issues of the election will be to see whether or not voters favorable to the opposition, among the eleven million registered, decide to stay at home. “We don’t want any more protests, we don’t want any more problems in the country. We want to choose for ourselves, by voting,” Alain Randriamandimby, 43, a T-shirt printer, explains to AFP in the early morning at a polling station in Antananarivo, known as “Tana”.

“I don’t really like that some people have said we have to stay at home. It’s total disorder in Madagascar, we have to move forward and elect a president,” complains Romualdine Ramahandry, 40, who sells Bibles in the streets to earn a living.

Voters present themselves in small groups, without hurrying. Coming out of rudimentary voting booths, they leave with their thumbs coated with indelible golden green ink. “I vote but we know that it’s not normal. There are only a few candidates who campaigned,” recalls Eugène Rakatomalala, 43, with a small straw hat on his forehead and a pointed goatee.

A second mandate for Andry Rajoelina?

Polling stations must remain open until 5 p.m. (2 p.m. GMT) on the large Indian Ocean island, whose population of 29 million remains one of the poorest on the planet despite important natural resources.

In 2018, turnout in the first round was less than 55%. Finally elected at the end of this election, Andry Rajoelina, 49, who first came to power in 2009 thanks to a mutiny driving out former president Marc Ravalomanana, is seeking a second term. Since a recent scandal over his dual French and Malagasy nationality, his eligibility has been contested by the opposition, which denounces maneuvers by those in power to reappoint him.

Ten opponents and candidates, united in a collective bringing together two ex-presidents and former ministers, demanded a suspension of the electoral process. “We reject Thursday’s election and we call on all Malagasy people to consider that this election does not exist,” candidate Hajo Andrianainarivelo, 56, declared on Tuesday on behalf of the collective.

Since the beginning of October, opponents have increased calls for demonstrations in the capital. These protests, regularly dispersed using tear gas, however, only mobilized a few hundred supporters. The prefect of Antananarivo, denouncing “acts of sabotage” on Wednesday against polling stations or materials, declared a nighttime curfew until Thursday 4 a.m. local time.

“We need a better life.”

The opposition collective had promised to continue the protest these days. But on the eve of the election, a call for a rally was finally canceled. And no word has been given for Thursday.

During a recent interview with AFP, Andry Rajoelina said he was sure of winning in the first round. Deploying large resources, he crisscrossed the country by helicopter or private plane during the campaign. “It is irresponsible to encourage voters not to vote,” criticized his campaign spokesperson, Lalatiana Rakotondrazafy, accusing the opposition of wanting to “sabotage” the vote by “an attempt to take hostage any the nation ".

The political crisis in the country was triggered in June by the revelation in the press of the discreet French naturalization of Andry Rajoelina in 2014. According to the opposition, he has therefore lost his Malagasy nationality and cannot stand for election. But the courts refused to invalidate his candidacy.

Josiane Rasomalala, 41, comes to vote in a ripped sailor top and flip-flops. “In the morning, I don’t eat, only a little at lunchtime and in the evening, otherwise I can’t get by, I don’t have enough. I vote because we need a better life,” she told AFP.