Mad for Marc

Madagascar Marc Ravalomanana
Self-declared President of Madagascar Marc Ravalomanana waves to supporters, Feb. 24, 2002 (Photo: AFP).

“Elvis would have been amazed to get this kind of reception,” commented an awestruck foreign onlooker. He was referring to the mass protests and general strikes called in support of presidential candidate Marc Ravalomanana, which brought hundreds of thousands of supporters onto the streets of the capital city, Antananarivo, during January and February. Ravalomanana, known to his fans simply as “Marc,” ran against incumbent President Didier Ratsiraka on Dec. 16.

He clearly captured the imaginations of many people in the impoverished island nation. “Colorful ‘Marc’ posters adorn the walls of even the remotest villages, and people of all ages wear T-shirts bearing his name and photograph,” wrote Mike Cadman in Johannesburg’s Sunday Independent (Feb. 3).

The government reported that in the election, Ravalomanana and Ratsiraka had both fallen short of the 50-percent majority needed for a clear victory. A runoff was scheduled for Feb. 24, but Ravalomanana protested, claiming that the government had rigged the results and that he had actually won 52 percent of the vote. “Various indicators since Dec. 16 show that Marc Ravalomanana won, but that a dark plot smothered the truth of the ballot boxes and robbed him of his victory. Reality or fantasy?” asked Adelson Razafy in the Madagascar Tribune (Feb. 13).

President Ratsiraka was quick to seize on the fact that the general strikes were costing the country up to US$14 million a day. His supporters fought back by blockading the capital. The political standoff brought international mediators to the country, including the secretary-general of the Organization of African Unity, who brokered an agreement to postpone the runoff.

“We must have Marc; the others have been here too long,” one protester said to the Sunday Independent (Feb. 3). “I ask you to be patient,” Ravalomanana told his supporters, according to a report in L’Express de Madagascar (Feb. 21).

But on Feb. 22, Ravalomanana ran out of patience and publicly declared himself president. At press time, President Ratsiraka had called a state of emergency.