Madagascar's Post-Election Crisis Deepens

Seeing Double

April 29: Marc Ravalomanana talks to the press a few hours after Madagascar's High Constitutional Court announced recount results of the December 16 election. 

As the strife following Madagascar’s disputed December election entered its fourth month, the people of the island nation faced the surreal prospect of having two presidents, two cabinets, and two capitals. [See “Mad for Marc,” State of the Debate, April 2002.] With even the military divided between them, self-declared president Marc Ravalomanana held control of the capital city, Antananarivo, while longtime president Didier Ratsiraka issued orders from his coastal stronghold, Toamasina.


The peaceful, pro-Ravalomanana protests that had drawn international attention in January, and which seemed to presage a velvet revolution, gave way to violence in late February as both men’s supporters dug in their heels. Forces loyal to Ratsiraka blew up bridges and blockaded the capital, while Ravalomanana directed his supporters to seize control of the regions. In one key town, Fianarantsoa, five soldiers were killed and others wounded during a battle in which Ravalomanana’s supporters attempted to unseat a governor. The death toll rose to 35 in early May.


"It is not a political crisis any more, we have to look at this in terms of war in Madagascar,” Elie Rajaonarison, an advisor to Ravalomanana, was quoted as saying by Harare’s Financial Gazette (April 11). In an interview with Radio France Internationale on March 29, Ratsiraka announced that he would fight to the end because “I don’t want people to say that Ratsiraka is a deserter, that he is the one who allowed a horde of neo-fascists and nazis, as they are often called, to vassalize our children and children’s children.”


Across Africa, there was criticism of Ratsiraka for clinging to power despite an apparent lack of popular support. “Madagascar was on its way up, we all thought. But we had reckoned without Africa’s old illness--the inability of leaders to give up power,” wrote Anver Versi in African Business (April 2002). An April 4 editorial in Kampala’s The Monitor, titled “Africa Can’t Go On Like This!” also lay the blame squarely at the former admiral’s feet: “Ratsiraka has ruled for 20 years. One would have thought that was more than enough. To him it isn’t, and he would rather see his country wrecked than give up power.”


Other commentators faulted the international community--which has mostly backed a runoff election--for taking a weak stand on the crisis. “The tense political situation in this African island nation has greatly exposed the hollowness of the ‘international community’’s so-called concern for democracy and human rights in Africa,” wrote Antoine Lokongo in the New African (April 2002).


On April 18, in a  surprising development, the rival presidents signed a deal in Dakar to form a government of national unity pending a recount of the December vote. But on April 29, when the High Constitutional Court declared Ravalomanana the winner of the recount, Ratsiraka effectively tore up the Dakar agreement and refused to step down, saying that the court had been stacked with Ravalomanana’s supporters. In the days following, the governors of four of the country’s six provinces, who have remained loyal to Ratsiraka, announced plans to secede from the capital and form an independent confederation, and a key supply bridge into Antananarivo was dynamited by Ratsiraka supporters on April 30.


On May 1, a delegation from the Organization of African Unity (OAU) arrived in Madagascar in an attempt to diffuse the crisis, and Ravalomanana agreed to the OAU’s request to delay his planned May 3 investiture as president.


More than ever, Madagascar is in the process of becoming a banana republic,” declared the Madagascar Tribune (May 2). An editorial in L’Express de Madagascar (May 2) seemed to back up Ratsiraka’s claim of judicial impartiality when it announced that “the number of registered voters [in the recount] is greater than three times the national average,” but the paper went on to add that, “all [Ravalomanana’s] predecessors were proclaimed elected under disputed conditions, which confirms the rule of this permanent electoral alchemy.”


Ratsiraka, who served as an admiral in the Malagasy navy before becoming president, has proven himself a clever strategist when it comes to clinging on to power. Though most commentators appeared to believe that he would ultimately lose his current battle to remain president, everything was up in the air as, on May 2, the province of Toamasina formally declared itself independent.


"In the short term, the admiral will not see more around him than a small band of mutineers,” wrote Adelson Razafy in the Madagascar Tribune (May 2). Even so, he pointed out, “the blackmail and pressures exercised by the admiral’s camp have had an effect: brandishing the threat of the civil war and secession of provinces has intimidated the international community.” In particular, Amara Essy, Secretary General of the OAU, seemed cowed by the new wave of support for Ratsiraka when he suggested that the country suspend its recount results and hold a referendum to resolve the crisis. “Here is another signatory of the Dakar accord who has gone back on his word,” Razafy wrote.


As another wave of violence threatened to break out, Ravalomanana seemed to be facing a thorny dilemma: risk a civil war by continuing to proclaim his legitimacy, or concede to Ratsiraka’s demand for a referendum. “In either case, he will win a large measure of public sympathy,” wrote Razafy (May 2). However, he concluded, “If Ravalomanana puts his title back in play, it will be necessary for him to put on his boxing gloves.”