Author Topic: Time Running Out in Madagascar’s Constitutional Crisis  (Read 1456 times)

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Time Running Out in Madagascar’s Constitutional Crisis
« on: August 10, 2013, 11:15:11 AM »

Time Running Out in Madagascar’s Constitutional Crisis
 By Simon Massey, on 09 Aug 2013, Briefing

Characterized by false dawns, blind alleys and abrupt turnarounds, the tortuous mediation of Madagascar’s constitutional crisis has once more stalled. The Special Electoral Court’s ruling to allow the current unelected transition president, Andry Rajoelina, to stand in the presidential election, along with Lalao Ravalomanana—the wife of ousted President Marc Ravalomanana—and another former president, Didier Ratsiraka, remains a sticking point for most of the international community, which currently refuses to recognize a presidential poll should any of these three win. Logistically, the election cannot now take place on Aug. 23 as planned, and only the most optimistic stakeholders envision completing two rounds of voting before the end of the year.

The de facto coup that forced businessman-turned-politician Ravalomanana from office and into exile in South Africa in January 2009, replacing him with a transitional government under youthful former DJ Rajoelina, led to a constitutional crisis that remains unresolved 4 1/2 years later. The intervening period has seen deterioration in the rule of law, declining standards of governance, abuse of human rights and deeper poverty for most Malagasy. But however egregious, Madagascar’s repression, suffering and deprivation have proved inadequate to trigger decisive intervention by the international community, which instead has relied on dogged diplomacy.
Although Madagascar’s economy has not yet collapsed as many predicted, growth has slowed significantly, and the years since the coup have been a lost opportunity for development. Major donors, including the U.S., European Union and World Bank, initially withdrew nonhumanitarian financial support, which had previously amounted to 75 percent of government spending. Madagascar has maintained fragile stability through prudent monetary policy and austerity measures, as well as an incremental resumption (.pdf) of donor support, including $167 million in emergency lending from the World Bank. Austerity has, however, resulted in dilapidated infrastructure, weakened state regulation and a stimulated illicit export sector, notably in rosewood and rare animal species, that has already increased pressure on a brittle environment.

With tax revenues falling, the government is increasingly reliant on income from large foreign mining projects, including Rio Tinto’s ilmenite project at Taolagnaro and Sherritt’s massive, environmentally contentious nickel and cobalt project at Ambatovy. A windfall $100 million signing bonus from Chinese company WISCO for the right to explore the Soalala iron deposit has cushioned the loss of foreign development assistance. The manufacturing sector, however, has been badly damaged. Previously a significant beneficiary of the Africa Growth and Opportunities Act that allows duty-free entry of textile goods into the U.S., Madagascar was suspended shortly after the coup, leading to the loss of up to 100,000 jobs. More than half of the export companies in the free trade zone in the capital, Anatanarivo, have subsequently closed.

After some progress on poverty alleviation under Ravalomanana, the crisis has hit the Malagasy population hard. The World Bank estimates that the number of those living under the poverty line has increased by 10 percent since 2008, with 92 percent of the population living on less than $2 a day. Calling on donors to reconsider the markedly unsuccessful sanctions regime, the United Nation’s Olivier de Schutter argues that the current level of humanitarian aid is failing to offset the effects of increased poverty. 

Despite explicit pro-Rajoelina bias by some newspapers and radio stations, and pragmatic self-censorship across the media, public debate in Madagascar remains relatively healthy. Political parties and movements have proliferated, albeit mainly as localized vehicles for the ambitions of elite personalities.

The military, meanwhile, is split. Promotions and pay raises have so far kept the majority of the armed forces loyal, while fear of reprisal fuels opposition to Ravalomanana, or his wife, retaking power. But there is a growing recognition that continued acquiescence is unsustainable should the economic and social fabric of the country deteriorate further. Senior officers have met to discuss the establishment of a military directorate should the political impasse continue, a position that seems to have the broad support of the political class.

Post-coup demands from a majority of international and regional actors for a return to constitutionality and the restoration of the elected president were swiftly reinforced (.pdf) by sanctions. Only France demurred, rankled by a perceived anti-French bias under Ravalomanana. Initially seeking to persuade the international community to accept early elections, France was clearly at odds with a staunch EU position. However, following the election of President Francois Hollande in 2012, France now seems to support the current African-led mediation under the auspices of the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC).
However, Rajoelina has repeatedly backtracked from the SADC-brokered “road map,” approved by the spectrum of Madagascar’s political forces, by which all exiled Malagasy should be allowed to return to participate in the electoral process under amnesty. The subsequent agreement that none of the three contentious candidates would run in the election was also soon broken, and their candidacies upheld by a compliant Special Electoral Court.

This latest affront has hardened the SADC position that all three must withdraw. However, an election without them would discount the current voting intentions of an estimated 60 percent of the electorate. Allowing the three to run, the option seemingly favored by the U.S., risks post-election strife in the event of a close poll. However, an election without them might well be won by a Rajoelina proxy. Since the Ravalomananas and Ratsiraka have no obvious proxies, they would probably call for a boycott by their supporters, further delegitimizing the process.

Despite the relative absence of violence during the crisis, historical divisions, such as the fundamental rift between the coastal and plateau peoples, could ignite conflict. Continued deadlock also increases the likelihood of action by the military. But whether a critical mass of officers across the army could reach an agreement to intervene and expedite elections, or whether the army, too, would split along internal fault lines, precipitating potential conflict, remains to be seen. With the international community no longer able to sanction further prevarication by the main protagonists, a secure future for a generation of Malagasy is in jeopardy.

Simon Massey is the director of the African Studies Centre at Coventry University, U.K. His research interests include Africa's peace and security architecture, irregular migration from Africa and the politics and security of Madagascar, Comoros, Chad and Guinea-Bissau.

Photo: Ousted President of Madagascar MarcRavalomanana (U.S. State Department photo)