An unelected administration governed Madagascar following a 2009 coup, but the country returned to electoral politics in 2013. Politics have been unstable, and government corruption and a lack of accountability persist. Defamation and other laws restrict press freedom. Authorities deny permits for demonstrations and disperse some that take place. The government has struggled to manage lawlessness and poverty, particularly in the south. However, the courts have shown increasing independence, and in 2018 issued rulings that calmed an escalating political crisis.
- In August, prisoners staged a massive riot and breakout at Farafangana Prison, in the south-eastern part of the island, after enduring inhumane conditions that had only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to the coronavirus, familial visits had been prohibited, and the squalid, unsanitary conditions enabled the virus to spread rapidly and pervasively throughout the prison population. The number of prisoners who contracted COVID-19 was unknown at year’s end. Prison guards and security forces shot and killed 23 prisoners.
- In the December Senate elections, President Andry Rajoelina’s political alliance won 10 out of the 12 elected seats, in a contest boycotted by the opposition. Earlier in the year, the National Assembly had reduced the number of senators in the body from 63 to 18, including 6 appointed by the President.
|Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?||3.003 4.004|
Madagascar is a semipresidential republic, with a president elected for a five-year term and a prime minister nominated by the National Assembly and appointed by the president.
Andry Rajoelina defeated Marc Ravalomanana, both former presidents, in the 2018 presidential election’s second round of voting in December with 55.7 percent of the vote, which the High Constitutional Court (HCC) confirmed in January 2019 despite allegations of fraud. The bitter rivalry between Rajoelina and Ravalomanana did not obstruct campaigning in 2018, which was relatively peaceful. Most election observers, particularly those from the European Union (EU), the African Union (AU), and the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC), recognized the election as generally free and fair.
Prime Minister Christian Ntsay, who was appointed by former president Hery Rajaonarimampianina in 2018 after the HCC ordered him to dissolve the government and name a consensus prime minister, was reappointed by President Rajoelina in July 2019.
|Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?||3.003 4.004|
The bicameral legislature consists of the 151-seat National Assembly and the Senate. Members of the National Assembly are directly elected to five-year terms.
In March 2020, the National Assembly passed a measure, approved by President Rajoelina, that reduced the size of the Senate from 63 to 18 seats. Six of these seats are appointed by the president; the remaining 12 are indirectly elected from an electoral college. Senators serve five-year terms. While Rajoelina was within his constitutional mandate and claimed the reduction of Senate seats raised funds for public universities, opposition groups claimed the change was politically motivated, as former president Rajaonarimampianina’s New Forces for Madagascar (HVM) party had dominated the Senate and used it as a stronghold of the opposition. The senatorial elections in December 2020 were boycotted by almost all opposition parties in protest. Rajoelina’s political alliance won 10 out of the 12 seats; the vote was deemed free and fair by most election observers, despite the boycott.
A political alliance led by President Rajoelina won 84 National Assembly seats in the May 2019 parliamentary elections, while presidential candidate Ravalomanana’s I Love Madagascar (TIM) party won 16; the remaining 51 were won by other parties and independent candidates. The contest was deemed free and fair by election observers, though some political parties claimed that the results were marred by fraud.
|Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies?||3.003 4.004|
The Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) is subject to some influence by the executive, which controls member nomination and budget allocation processes. A new electoral code was adopted in 2018, though provisions that would have prevented Rajoelina and Ravalomanana from running prompted mass demonstrations and were ruled unconstitutional by the HCC later that year.
The independence and credibility of the CENI has been seriously undermined by its lack of resources and expertise in different domains (particularly in database management and information technology). CENI vice president Thiery Rakotonarivo revealed in March 2020 that over one million people likely had the same national identity card numbers as others on the voter roll, a problem that has existed for many years because voter registration is done manually. The president of the CENI, Hery Rakotomanana, forced Rakotonarivo to resign later in the month and claimed the issue should not have affected any recent election results.
|Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings?||3.003 4.004|
Almost 200 registered political parties are registered in Madagascar. However, the political parties law is widely viewed as a flawed document that places undue burdens on individual candidates, effectively mandating a high cost for political candidacy. Political leaders frequently use religion, ethnicity, and caste as instruments to mobilize voters.
|Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections?||3.003 4.004|
Opposition parties can increase their support through elections, but most political parties lack the financial resources to engage in vibrant competition. The government has historically denied opposition parties permits to hold demonstrations. Opposition and independent political figures were harassed and arrested by authorities in 2020.
The TIM claimed an August 2019 revision to a law on opposition parties prohibiting individuals who do not hold a legislative seat from serving as the official opposition targeted their party leader Ravalomanana. The Senate proposed an amendment to the bill later that month, effectively delaying its passage; it remained unresolved in the upper house at the end of 2020.
In March 2020, the National Assembly passed a measure that reduced the size of the Senate from 63 seats to 18, ostensibly to increase available funds for investment in public universities. Opposition parties claim the change was politically motivated and boycotted the December 2020 Senate elections in protest.
|Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means?||3.003 4.004|
Economic networks compete for power through strategic support of political candidates. In turn, a narrow group of political elites maintain their status by supporting the interests of their private-sector patrons. As a result, lines between public and private expenditures are blurry.
The military has some influence over politics, and it threatened to intervene during a 2018 political crisis. However, the military did not interfere in the 2019 election, and election observers called the contest credible.
|Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities?||2.002 4.004|
The constitution guarantees political and electoral rights for all citizens, but in practice, discrimination impedes the political representation of some groups. The members of the Merina ethnic group are overrepresented in governmental institutions compared to the members of the other seventeen prominent ethnic groups. While some LGBT+ people are active politically in the capital, they face social stigma that discourages political participation and open advocacy for LGBT+ rights.
Cultural norms restrict the political participation of women, who hold 18 percent of National Assembly seats and 11 percent of Senate seats. Muslims are disproportionately affected by the nationality code, which can make it difficult for them to secure citizenship documents and thus voting rights. Ethnicity and caste are important political determinants, but generally do not affect political rights.
|Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?||3.003 4.004|
Following a 2009 coup, the country returned to electoral politics in 2013. Government instability has since been reflected in the frequent replacement of the prime minister and frequent changes to the composition of the cabinet.
However, since the election of Rajoelina in 2018, the government has become more stable. Though the opposition boycotted the senatorial elections in December 2020, election observers deemed the polls free and fair. The successful senate elections and the as-of-yet secure tenure of Rajoelina’s cabinet are evidence of increased stability in the political landscape.
According to the constitution, the president determines policies, and Parliament writes laws and votes on them. However, the Parliament lacks the strength to act as an effective check on executive power. Additionally, economic elites exert significant influence on elected officials.
Score Change: The score improved from 2 to 3 because of increased government stability in recent years, as seen in the successful Senate elections.
|Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective?||2.002 4.004|
Corruption remains a serious problem in Madagascar, though a series of recent reforms and anticorruption strategies aim to address it. Investigations and prosecutions of corruption by the Independent Anticorruption Bureau (BIANCO) were infrequent and rarely targeted high-profile individuals, but the agency has become more independent in recent years. A May 2019 BIANCO report implicated 79 lawmakers for accepting bribes to adopt 2018 electoral reforms favoring then-president Rajaonarimampianina. Prosecutors were expected to review the report and consider indictments against the legislators, but no major updates were reported by the end of 2020. In November 2019, BIANCO submitted a report to the High Court of Justice (HCJ) implicating three former ministers in acts of corruption. However, the file remained unreviewed, as the some of the HCJ’s seats remained unfilled.
|Does the government operate with openness and transparency?||2.002 4.004|
The constitution provides for the right to information, but no law defines a formal procedure for requesting government information. However, ministers and officials often hold press briefings, and laws, decrees, and high court decisions are posted on the internet. In March 2019, the government launched a new online contact form for Malagasy to send messages to President Rajoelina and key aides.
There is little oversight of procurement processes. Asset declarations are required for most government officials, and while many complied with these laws, there are few practical consequences for those who refuse.
|Are there free and independent media?||2.002 4.004|
The constitution provides for freedom of the press. However, this guarantee has been undermined by criminal libel laws and other restrictions, as well as safety risks involved in the investigation of sensitive subjects such as cattle rustling and the illicit extraction and sale of natural resources.
During the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the government targeted and harassed journalists and media outlets who allegedly spread “false information” about the coronavirus and the government’s response to the pandemic.
|Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private?||3.003 4.004|
Religious freedom is provided for in the constitution, though this right is upheld inconsistently. Religious leaders have noted that some workers were unable to practice their religion due to poor enforcement of labor laws. The government has historically restricted the Muslim community’s access to education by threatening to close down Islamic schools. Several church facilities have been attacked by armed individuals, some apparently attempting robberies, in recent years.
|Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination?||3.003 4.004|
Academic freedom is generally respected. However, a lack of resources and frequent strikes hamper normal operations of public universities.
|Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution?||2.002 4.004|
There were no official reports of the government monitoring online activity. However, a cybercrimes law prohibits online defamation and spreading “false information,” and has been used to prosecute social media users.
In October 2020, former communications minister Harry Laurent Rahajason was sentenced to 44 months in prison after supporting a protest through social media online against President Rajoelina’s claims that an herbal drink could cure patients with coronavirus. His arrest and the detention of a journalist who wrote on social media about the COVID-19 pandemic, has deterred others from speaking freely online.
Score Change: The score declined from 3 to 2 because arrests and prosecutions of individuals who criticized the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic deterred others from expressing their views.
|Is there freedom of assembly?||2.002 4.004|
The constitution guarantees freedom of assembly, but authorities have sometimes declined requests for protests and rallies in the name of public security.
In 2020, the government denied authorization of opposition protests and cracked down on those that happened, using the pretext of the COVID-19 pandemic. In June 2020, security forces used tear gas and warning shots to disperse several groups of individuals protesting COVID-19 lockdown measures in the city of Toamasina. In the capital city Antananarivo, opposition parties complained that they were not given authorization to hold public meetings and protests.
Score Change: The score declined from 3 to 2 because unlike in the previous year, the government consistently cracked down on antigovernment demonstrations, often citing COVID-19 as justification.
|Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work?||3.003 4.004|
Freedom of association is provided for in the constitution and is generally respected. A wide variety of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) are active, but many domestic human rights groups lack resources. Although no restrictions are placed on NGOs, the government is not always receptive to their opinions. Groups focused on the environment or human rights face pressure from powerful interests. Raleva Rajoany (known as Raleva) was arrested and given a two-year suspended sentence in 2017, and again in September 2020, for his activism against a gold mine owned by a Chinese company that pollutes a river in Mananjary. In October 2020, he appeared before a judge and was released.
|Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations?||3.003 4.004|
Workers have the right to join unions, engage in collective bargaining, and strike. However, more than 80 percent of workers are engaged in agriculture, fishing, and forestry at a subsistence level, and therefore have no access to unions.
|Is there an independent judiciary?||2.002 4.004|
The executive influences judicial decisions through the reassignment of judges. Trial outcomes are frequently predetermined, and the Malagasy people generally regard the judiciary as corrupt. Local tribunals are seen as overburdened and corrupt.
In 2018 and 2019, key HCC rulings have reflected its growing independence from the executive. In 2018, it struck down election laws that would have prevented key figures from competing against former president Rajaonarimampianina in that year’s election. In April 2019, the HCC forced President Rajoelina to delay a constitutional referendum that aimed to dissolve the Senate and give more power to regional authorities. However, the HCC has at times approved Rajoelina’s actions despite legitimate protests from the opposition.
|Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters?||1.001 4.004|
Due process rights are poorly upheld. A lack of training, resources, and personnel hampers the effectiveness of the criminal justice system. Many people held in pretrial detention do not have access to lawyers, and the successful assertion of due process rights is often tied to the ability of family and friends to intercede on behalf of the accused.
The government has increased funding for the judiciary, launched capacity-building efforts, and pardoned individuals detained over minor offenses as part of a new policy supported by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). In October 2019, the government also instituted the use of “fair ground hearings” to alleviate the pretrial backlog.
|Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies?||2.002 4.004|
The police and military are unable to assert authority over the entire country, and areas in southern Madagascar are subjected to raids and violence by bandits and criminal groups. Security forces operate with little oversight or accountability for extrajudicial killings, particularly against cattle thieves, known as dahalo.
Detainees and prisoners suffer from harsh and sometimes life-threatening conditions due to overcrowding in detention facilities, and substandard hygiene and health care. In August 2020, prisoners staged a massive riot and breakout at the Farafangana Prison to escape the inhumane conditions they endured, which had been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Prison guards and security forces shot and killed 23 prisoners, which Amnesty International described as “an appalling attack on the right to life.” Due to the coronavirus, familial visits had been prohibited, and the squalid, unsanitary conditions enabled the virus to spread rapidly and pervasively throughout the prison population. The number of prisoners who contracted COVID-19 is unknown.
People convicted of crimes can be sentenced to hard labor.
|Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?||2.002 4.004|
Legal provisions prohibit discrimination based on race, gender, disability, and social status, but these are upheld inconsistently. Conservative cultural and social norms can prevent women from having the same opportunities as men. Some ethnic groups face discrimination outside of their home regions. There are no legal protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity; LGBT+ people face social stigma, particularly in rural areas, and experience employment discrimination and occasional acts of violence. The age of consent for same-sex relations is 21, but 14 for heterosexual relations. In March 2020, a woman was arrested because of her relationship with a 19-year-old woman.
|Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education?||3.003 4.004|
The government generally does not interfere in freedom of movement; individuals are allowed to move freely in the country and can travel internationally. However, bandit attacks in the south and west have made traveling across the island difficult. Authorities seized 112 weapons and arrested 48 people in a May 2019 operation against bandits. In 2020, the government restricted movement to curtail the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.
|Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors?||2.002 4.004|
Madagascar’s legal structure provides protections for private property rights, though enforcement of these protections is inconsistent, in part because most farmers do not hold official rights to their land. There is a history of competition between the state-recognized property rights system and customary land use practices, as well as attempts by the state to permit mining, commercial agriculture, and other economic pursuits on land where ownership is disputed.
In recent years, Madagascar has made it easier to start a business by reducing the number of registration procedures and simplifying the payment of registration fees. In May 2019, the government launched a financing program to support Malagasy establishing new businesses.
|Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance?||2.002 4.004|
Women and children have limited social freedoms in Madagascar, especially in rural areas. Forced child marriage and domestic abuse are common. Although sexual harassment is illegal, the law is not enforced, and harassment is common. Abortion is illegal in Madagascar.
|Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation?||1.001 4.004|
Most people work in subsistence agriculture, making advancement in the local economy extremely challenging.
According to the US State Department’s 2020 Trafficking in Persons Report, the Malagasy government does not scrutinize officials implicated in trafficking, though it does provide some services to victims and convicted traffickers for the first time since 2016.
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Global Freedom Score61 100 partly free