VEHICLES brandishing, loudspeakers blast out propaganda in the streets of Antananarivo, Madagascar’s capital. Candidate’s faces are plastered across buildings, buses and T-shirts given out at rallies. It has been a long time coming, but after months of wrangling, three postponements and a lot of international pressure, Madagascar is finally set to hold its first presidential elections since a coup in early 2009. The first round is supposed to take place on October 25th, the second on December 20th, along with parliamentary elections.
This is good news, at least on the face of things. Of the 52 African countries measured by the Mo Ibrahim Index of African Governance, Madagascar, a vast island off Africa’s east coast, registered the biggest deterioration in overall governance over the past 12 years.
Since the coup, the economy has tanked. Foreign aid, which once accounted for 40% of the budget, has been suspended and foreign direct investment has stalled, as investors remain wary of dealing with a government widely deemed illegitimate. Poverty has risen: two-thirds of Malagasies say they are in a bad or very bad financial way, compared with less than a third before the coup. People want to move on. In a survey published in July by Afrobarometer, a company with backers in Ghana, Kenya and South Africa, 80% of respondents said elections would be the best way out of the crisis. Yet Malagasies resent foreign interference, mainly by the French government and NGOs, as well as the European Union and the Southern African Development Community, a 15-country regional club.
Between them they helped arrange for Andry Rajoelina, Madagascar’s acting president and Marc Ravalomanana, the former leader who has been exiled in South Africa since the coup, to be barred from standing, along with Mr. Ravalomanana’s wife, Lalao. Yet many Malagasies now say they would have preferred a free election in which voters could have their say once and for all, with no one barred from running. As it stands, the Rajoelina-Ravalomanana feud is unresolved and will be fought by proxy candidates instead. In any event, the elections have been poorly organized. Madagascar is a country the size of France with a scattered population of 22m and few roads, making remote villages hard to reach during the one-month-long campaign.
The country’s electoral commission, which is overseeing a new voting procedure, will struggle to get its message to rural areas. Moreover, campaign financing has been shady. Most newspapers and broadcast media are owned by the leading candidates. As the second round is to take place during the rainy season, turnout may be low. And the electoral register is still incomplete.
Source: The Economist