Though politics have been unstable since the return to electoral politics in 2013, the 2018 election of Andry Rajoelina has brought some stability. However, 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.
- In February, prominent opposition figure Mahery Lanto Manandafy was arrested and given a six-month suspended prison sentence for allegedly “spreading false information” and “insulting an institution.” Manandafy had posted on Facebook criticizing the construction of a bridge, claiming it was structurally flawed. He was again arrested in September on similar charges and for defamation; he remained detained at year-end.
- In July, a gang of cattle thieves rounded up the inhabitants of a village in Ankazobe, about 47 miles north of Antananarivo, and burned them alive inside their homes, killing at least 32. Some members of the gang were arrested, but others were still at large.
- Also in July, several hundred people gathered in Antananarivo to protest the growing cost-of-living crisis. Organizers of the protest were largely affiliated with opposition parties, and had originally planned to hold the demonstrations inside property owned by opposition party leader Marc Ravalomanana. During the protests, police detained two leaders of Ravalomanana’s party, Rina Randriamasinoro and Jean-Claude Rakotonirina, allegedly for “inciting hatred and public unrest.”
|Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?
Madagascar is a semi-presidential 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 in the 2018 presidential election’s second round of voting with 55.7 percent of the vote, which the High Constitutional Court (HCC) confirmed despite allegations of fraud. Most regional and international election observers also recognized the election as generally free and fair.
Prime Minister Christian Ntsay, who was appointed by former president Hery Rajaonarimampianina in 2018, was reappointed by President Rajoelina in 2019.
|Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?
The bicameral legislature consists of the 151-seat National Assembly and the 18-seat Senate. Members of the National Assembly are directly elected to five-year terms. Six of the Senate seats are appointed by the president; the remaining 12 are indirectly elected from an electoral college. Senators serve five-year terms.
A political alliance led by President Rajoelina won 84 National Assembly seats in the 2019 parliamentary elections, while former president 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. The Senate elections in December 2020 were boycotted by nearly all opposition parties, and Rajoelina’s political alliance won 10 out of 12 seats; the vote was also deemed free and fair by most election observers, despite the boycott.
|Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies?
The Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) is subject to some influence by the executive, which controls member nomination and budget allocation processes. The CENI’s independence and credibility has been seriously undermined by its lack of resources and expertise, particularly in database management and information technology.
|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?
Almost 200 political parties are registered in Madagascar. However, the law on political parties is widely viewed as a flawed document that places undue burdens on individual candidates, effectively instituting a high financial barrier for political candidacy. Political leaders frequently use religion, ethnicity, and caste as instruments to mobilize voters.
In July 2022, several hundred people gathered in Antananarivo to protest a growing cost-of-living crisis. Organizers of the protest were largely affiliated with opposition parties and originally planned to hold the demonstrations inside property owned by the opposition leader Marc Ravalomanana. During the protests, police detained two leaders of TIM, Rina Randriamasinoro and Jean-Claude Rakotonirina, allegedly for “inciting hatred and public unrest.” In May, opposition leader Ravalomanana was stopped by the police on his way to attend a TIM meeting.
In February 2022, Mahery Lanto Manandafy, a prominent opposition figure and son of the renowned leftist politician Manandafy Rakotonirina, was arrested and given a six-month suspended prison sentence for allegedly “spreading false information” on Facebook and “insulting an institution.” In his posts, Manandafy had criticized the construction of a bridge, claiming it was structurally flawed. He was again arrested in September on similar charges and for defamation; he remained detained at year-end.
|Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections?
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.
An amendment to electoral law, passed by the National Assembly in 2019 and by the Senate in 2021, requires an elected official to hold official status as the parliamentary opposition leader. The TIM claimed the amendment targeted their party leader Ravalomanana, who had not assumed elected office.
|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?
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. In July 2021, a few retired and active military officers were arrested for plotting to assassinate the president and overthrow the government. The two primary suspects were sentenced to 10 and 20 years of forced labor in December. Most of their accomplices were acquitted or received lesser sentences.
|Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities?
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 government institutions compared to the members of the other 17 official ethnic groups. While some LGBT+ people are active politically in the capital, they face social stigma that discourages political participation and open advocacy for their equal rights.
Cultural norms restrict the political participation of women. Muslims, who are mostly of Pakistani and Indian descent, 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?
Since his 2018 election, President Rajoelina has brought some stability to government, which had experienced frequent replacements of the prime minister and cabinet members since the 2013 return to electoral politics. However, the current parliament lacks the strength to act as an effective check on executive power. Additionally, economic elites exert significant influence on elected officials.
|Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective?
Corruption remains a serious problem in Madagascar despite the adoption of recent reforms and anticorruption strategies. Investigations and prosecutions of corruption by the Independent Anticorruption Office (BIANCO) are infrequent and rarely target high-profile individuals, though the agency has become more independent in recent years. BIANCO identified 79 lawmakers who accepted bribes to adopt 2018 electoral reforms; prosecutors had not pursued cases against them by the end of 2022. In 2019, BIANCO submitted a report to the High Court of Justice (HCJ) implicating three former ministers in acts of corruption; the court has not yet reviewed the allegations. Nevertheless, in October 2021, former prime minister Jean Ravelonarivo was convicted of corruption, fined 6 billion ariary ($1.5 million), and sentenced to five years in prison. Ravelonarivo did not attend his trial and allegedly fled to Switzerland days before the court ruled on his case.
|Does the government operate with openness and transparency?
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.
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?
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 2020 and 2021, the government targeted and harassed journalists and media outlets critical of its response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
|Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private?
Religious freedom is provided for in the constitution, though this right is upheld inconsistently. Religious leaders have noted that some workers have been forced to work on days of worship, in violation of labor law. 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 in recent years.
|Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination?
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?
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.
|Is there freedom of assembly?
The constitution guarantees freedom of assembly, but authorities at times decline requests for protests and rallies in the name of public security. Throughout 2022, several meetings of the opposition were banned or forcefully dispersed by the police.
|Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work?
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.
|Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations?
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?
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 recent years, key HCC rulings have reflected its growing independence from the executive. However, the HCC has at times approved Rajoelina’s actions and disregarded legitimate allegations of corruption, despite legitimate protests from the opposition.
|Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters?
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).
|Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies?
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. Nevertheless, since 2020, new military bases were built in these areas that were traditionally called “red zones,” under the control of the dahalo. In July 2022, a gang of dahalo rounded up the inhabitants of a village in Ankazobe, about 47 miles north of Antananarivo, and burned them alive inside their homes, killing at least 32. Some members of the gang were arrested, but others were still at large.
Detainees and prisoners suffer from harsh and sometimes life-threatening conditions due to overcrowding in detention facilities, as well as substandard hygiene and health care. People convicted of serious crimes can be sentenced to hard labor.
In August 2022, police fired live ammunition at a mob of people carrying weapons in the small town of Ikongo (about 200 miles south of the capital city Antananarivo) killing at least 19 people. The mob had demanded police hand over four people who had been arrested for kidnapping.
|Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?
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.
|Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education?
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.
|Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors?
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.
|Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance?
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?
Most people work in subsistence agriculture, making advancement in the local economy extremely challenging. Human trafficking remains a challenge, according to the US State Department’s 2022 Trafficking in Persons Report.
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Global Freedom Score58 100 partly free