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In Madagascar, a crisis looms after a record abstention in the presidential election – Libération

This Thursday, November 16, the Malagasy seem to have largely avoided the polls. The opposition, which had widely called for a boycott of the vote, is calling for its cancellation.

Is this the effect of the boycott or the disinterest of the Malagasy people for an election that is a foregone conclusion? This Thursday, November 16, the participation rate for the first round of the presidential election would be around the 20% mark, according to initial estimates given by several sources from the electoral commission to Agence France Presse. A historically low figure. Five years ago, 54% of registered voters traveled to vote.

This year, more than 11 million voters were called to the polls to decide between Andry Rajoelina, the outgoing president, and 12 other official candidates. But 10 of them, gathered in a collective (including former presidents Hery Rajaonarimampianina and Marc Ravalomanana), did not campaign and called on voters to shun the vote. “We do not recognize these elections,” have they already announced at a press conference, given the participation “at the lowest point in history” from the country. Opponents also pointed out irregularities in the conduct of the vote, highlighting the presence of “offices literally closed, (where) there are no voters”, like in Androy, in the south of the country.

“This first glimpse of the participation rate gives an idea of ​​the strength of the opposition’s arguments in the face of the mobilization of supporters of the outgoing president, explains to Release Solofo Randrianja, professor of history at the University of Tamatave, specialist in contemporary Malagasy political life. But it is important to be careful: these figures are mainly based on city polling stations, which are more sensitive to the opposition’s arguments; unlike the countryside, the reserve of votes of the power in place, which constitutes the majority of voters.

Andry Rajoelina, 49, bet on a victory in the first round. During his campaign, he crisscrossed Madagascar by helicopter or private plane, holding huge meetings in the four corners of the country. During the day, he called on the Malagasy people to vote in force. “The only democratic way (…) is the elections”, he reaffirmed after submitting his ballot in Antananarivo, the capital. Elected in 2018, he had already gained power for the first time in 2009 thanks to a mutiny driving out the former president, Marc Ravalomanana. Reacting to the call for a boycott, the head of state denounced “people who are trying to sow trouble and prevent the elections.”

Yet another political crisis set to last

On the evening of November 14, acts of sabotage, including a fire, affected several polling stations. As a result, a curfew was imposed the night before the vote. Since the beginning of October, demonstrations – regularly dispersed with tear gas – have punctuated the campaign at the call of the opposition, each time bringing together only a few hundred supporters in the streets of the capital. Last month, a candidate was injured during one of them. The vote, initially scheduled for November 9, was then postponed for a week.

Independent since 1960, the former French colony has rarely experienced an election without a military transition or protest. “Each presidential election in Madagascar has always produced a political crisis before, during or after, analyzes Solofo Randrianja. All the alternations took place outside any institutional framework, this election will not deviate from the rule. What is unprecedented with the current crisis is that for the first time the opposition has not gone beyond the legal framework to challenge power.”

Political tension crystallized last June, after the press revealed the dual nationality of Rajoelina, who would have discreetly acquired French nationality in 2014. The opposition considers that the outgoing president has therefore lost his Malagasy nationality and therefore cannot be a candidate. But the courts refused to invalidate his candidacy. The government, for its part, condemned “will to overthrow power”, accusing the opposition of “threaten the stability of the country”.

Whatever the results of the first round, the announcement of which is scheduled for November 24, the political crisis is set to last in the Indian Ocean island, one of the poorest countries on the planet. The low turnout is seen by the opposition as proof of support for its boycott slogan, which would invalidate the electoral process. But Rajoelina will hasten to brush aside the argument, arguing for his victory – almost certain – at the polls. “I am strongly convinced that there will be no second round (on December 20), predicts Solofo Randrianja. There is a strong chance that the outgoing president will be re-elected in the first round, that’s what he wanted. With a low participation rate, however, its legitimacy will not be high enough for it to benefit from a state of grace. He will then be forced to maintain power by using force.”

Gn Fr world

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