Madagascar heads to polls despite opposition boycott

In Madagascar, the atmosphere simmered with anticipation as citizens embarked on a consequential journey to the polls. It was a crucial day, a presidential election brimming with significance, yet shadowed by controversy.

Across the nation, people stood in lines, hopeful, eager to cast their votes, while others, emboldened by opposition to the process, chose to withhold their participation. The country was sharply divided, marked by the stark contrast between precincts supporting President Andry Rajoelina and those echoing the voice of the opposition.

In the bustling areas aligned with Rajoelina’s party, Tanora MalaGasy Vonona, voters streamed into polling stations, reflecting a spirited turnout. Conversely, in opposition strongholds, the scene was markedly different—silent, sparse queues characterized these districts, showcasing a palpable skepticism and disengagement from the electoral process.


Madagascar's President and a presidential candidate Andry Rajoelina casts his ballot at a polling station during the presidential election in Ambatobe
Madagascar’s President and a presidential candidate Andry Rajoelina casts his ballot at a polling station during the presidential election in Ambatobe

Amidst this backdrop of divided participation, Mama Pôta, a seasoned shop vendor in the capital, expressed a sentiment echoing across dissenting voices. “I am not going to vote because it is an election that doesn’t meet the standards, so what’s the point,” she lamented, embodying the disillusionment felt by many towards the compromised nature of the proceedings.

The lead-up to this pivotal day had been turbulent, marked by weeks of fervent protests and impassioned demands from the opposition. Calls for a delay in the election reverberated alongside demands for new leadership within the electoral commission and the establishment of a specialized court to address election disputes.

Yet, President Rajoelina, vying for a third term, stood firm against these calls, dismissing them as political maneuvers. As he exercised his right to vote in Antananarivo’s Atmobe, accompanied by his family, he underscored the importance of citizens’ voices being heard, condemning any attempt to obstruct the democratic process.

The nation, polarized by differing perspectives and disillusionment, witnessed a turnout that reflected both fervent support and profound disenchantment. Each vote, or the absence thereof, carried the weight of a populace deeply divided yet fervently engaged in shaping the destiny of their country

Increasing Isolation

In the early hours of election day in Madagascar, the air was charged with a sense of hope and expectation. For 26-year-old day laborer Rija Ralijaona, the paramount desire was for the future leader to tackle the pressing issue of unemployment. As she prepared to cast her vote at dawn, Rija expressed a common sentiment among the youth, yearning for a president who would prioritize job creation.

However, the election was not without its share of challenges and dissenting voices. Calls from the opposition to postpone the electoral process found resonance with an influential entity—the organization representing Madagascar’s four major Christian churches. On the eve of the elections, they announced their decision not to observe the vote, citing an unsuitable political environment and a lack of adherence to democratic standards.

At the heart of the electoral contest stood the incumbent President Andry Rajoelina, a figure whose political journey has been marked by twists and turns. A 49-year-old entrepreneur and former DJ, Rajoelina ascended to power through a 2009 coup, a period that unsettled investors in the Indian Ocean island. Despite the controversies surrounding his rise, he stepped down after leading a transitional authority for almost five years, subsequently winning the presidential election in 2018.

However, the opposition contends that Rajoelina should be disqualified due to his acquisition of French nationality in 2014. In response, Rajoelina argues that the constitution does not mandate the exclusive holding of Malagasy nationality for the head of state. He asserts that any loss of nationality requires government-authorized approval, emphasizing his eligibility.

The lead-up to the election witnessed recurrent protests by opposition supporters, met with police using tear gas to maintain order. The United Nations human rights office expressed concern, noting the use of “unnecessary and disproportionate force” against peaceful protesters. While the government justified its actions as necessary for maintaining order, the situation highlighted the tense political climate.

As the nation awaited the outcome, provisional results were anticipated on Nov. 24, providing a glimpse into the direction Madagascar would chart in the aftermath of a hotly contested election. The ballot boxes held not only votes but the aspirations, concerns, and expectations of a populace navigating a pivotal moment in its democratic journey.

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