Uncertainty as Madagascar gears for polls

2013-10-23 08:48

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Antananarivo - Uncertainty hangs over Friday's presidential election in Madagascar, which is intended to draw a line under military rule and bring the Indian Ocean island state back into the international fold.

There have been complaints of organisational problems, but if the election in the massive, underdeveloped country of 22 million people goes smoothly, large amounts of desperately needed international aid could flow again.

Before the military-backed coup in 2009, which brought President Andry Rajoelina to power, aid made up about 70% of the government's budget. In recent years, the gross domestic product has been shrinking and people are suffering from worsening poverty.

Rajoelina and former president Marc Ravalomanana are excluded from the election, and are being represented by proxies who were previously in the shadows but have now been thrust into the spotlight - Hery Rajaonarimampianina and Robinson Jean-Louis.

Robinson Jean-Louis has already indicated he will appoint Lalao Ravalomanana, the former president's wife, as his prime minister, while the outgoing president could also seek office in a new government under Rajaonarimampianina.

Registration cards

Another four wealthy candidates have splashed out on their campaigns, travelling around the sparsely populated country by air, using local pop stars and free T-shirts to boost their message.

In all, more the 30 candidates are taking part.

"I've never seen so many candidates with so much money," said a local businessman.

But with just days to go before the election, the electoral commission was still arranging training for its staff, registration cards had not been distributed to all those eligible, and the accuracy of the new register was in doubt.

"There will be confusion and discord," said Sahondra Rabenarivo, a lawyer working for a non-governmental organisation, pointing to problems facing electoral officials in the former French colony.

"Factors are multiplying that could lead to legal objections," Rabenarivo said.

"Perhaps there will be no election," said Antananarivo taxi driver Samy Rajemison, echoing the view of many. He had yet to receive his registration card.

President Rajoelina has voiced concern, convening a special meeting of the electoral commission a week ahead of the poll to complain of "evident delays and shortcomings".

After the meeting Prime Minister Omer Beriziky noted ominously that there was no such thing as a "perfect election". But he added: "It would be worse if it were delayed at the last minute." 

The independent electoral commission and its international partners remain optimistic.

"Everything will be finished on time," according to Simon Pierre Nanitelamio, a US electoral official helping with the poll's technical aspects.

The effects of the sanctions imposed by the West and African countries following Rajoelina's 2009 coup are clear.

Rule of law

Conditions have severely deteriorated, both in the towns and in the countryside, where 70% of people live.

Zenaide Rasoavonimanana, 60, and her husband Rodolphe, 65, live in Mandrifehariva, 30km from the capital. There is no electricity and they get their news by radio - when they have batteries.

Prices had risen along with crime, they said.

"Fertilizers and seeds are expensive now for the people," said Rodolphe.

While neither trusts the politicians, they are hopeful that the decline in living standards will come to an end.

"I will vote, because this is the duty of every citizen, and because it is necessary to end this crisis," Zenaide said.

Whatever the outcome, the 33 election candidates have all spoken of the need to re-establish the rule of law.

"We know all the problems that Madagascar has and everyone knows what the country needs," said Brigitte Rabemanantsoa, one of two women candidates.

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