Madagascar | Freedom House

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Freedom in the World 2002

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Madagascar in 2001 continued its hesitant process of consolidating democratic institutions, although a weak party system complicates efforts at governance. Presidential elections occurred in December. President Ratsiraka was forced into a controversial run-off by his main challenger, Marc Ravalomanana, the mayor of Antananarivo, the country's capital. First-ever senate elections, part of a policy to extend democratic governance, finally took place after a long delay. Public policy debates about constitutional reform took place.

Madagascar, the world's fourth largest island, lies 220 miles off Africa's southeastern coast. After 70 years of French colonial rule and episodes of severe repression, Madagascar gained independence in 1960. A leftist military junta seized power from President Philbert Tsiranana in 1972. A member of the junta, Admiral Didier Ratsiraka, emerged as leader in 1975 and maintained power until his increasingly authoritarian regime bowed to social unrest and nonviolent mass demonstrations in 1991. Under a new 1992 constitution, opposition leader Albert Zafy won the presidency with more than 65 percent of the vote.

President Zafy failed to win reelection after being impeached by the supreme court in 1996. Ratsiraka won a narrow victory in a December 1996 presidential runoff election that was deemed mostly free and fair by international observers. His campaign pledges of commitment to the democratic rule of law have been honored indifferently.

The development of a number of institutions mandated by the new, democratic constitution has been slow, and political influence appears to have undermined the independence of the supreme court. A decentralization plan was narrowly approved in a 1998 referendum that was boycotted by the country's increasingly fractious opposition. A long history of irregular financial dealings continued as the International Monetary Fund refused to release scheduled aid.

Legislative elections in May 1998 were viewed as more problematic than preceding polls since Madagascar's transition to multiparty politics in 1992. The Council of Christian Churches and several political groups, for example, noted that the elections were marred by fraud and other abuses. Ratsiraka's party, the Association for Madagascar's Renaissance (AREMA), won 63 of 150 parliamentary seats and emerged as the leading force in a coalition government. A new party led by Norbert Ratsirahonana, a former prime minister, fared well in and around the capital of Antananarivo.

Race and ethnicity are important factors in Madagascar's politics. Its mostly very poor population is divided between highland Merina people of Malay origin and coastal peoples mostly of black African origin. A referendum on a new constitution held in 1998 resulted in a narrow victory for the changes proposed by President Ratsiraka, which increased the power of the presidency.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

Citizens have the right to change their government democratically. The president is directly elected by universal adult suffrage. Since 1992 one president has been defeated in elections and another impeached by the parliament. The legislature is bicameral. The lower chamber, the national assembly (Antenimieram Pirenena), has 150 members, directly elected for a five-year term. The upper chamber, the senate, has 90 members, two-thirds of them elected by an electoral college, the remainder nominated by the president, all for a six-year term. AREMA (Avant-garde de la Revolution Malgache) holds the presidency and, since the 1998 elections, is the largest party in the national assembly. It also won 49 of the 60 seats in the senate in senatorial elections on March 2001. A 1998 constitutional referendum gave the president the power to appoint or dismiss the prime minister (who may come from a party that has a minority of seats in the assembly); formerly the national assembly had this power.

Presidential elections in Madagascar took place in December. President Didier Ratsiraka decided to run-again for office despite his pledge in 1996 that he would not stand again. He faced four main candidates, including Ravalomanana, the mayor of Antananarivo, who campaigned as an advocate of economic efficiency and improved governance. In November authorities in Madagascar closed food processing factories belonging to him, allegedly because he had a large overdue tax liability. Another candidate included former President Albert Zafy, who beat Ratsiraka in the 1993 elections but was impeached in 1996 for violating the constitution.

Despite massive anti-Ratsiraka demonstrations alleging widespread government fraud, official results gave Ravalomanana 46 percent of the vote, while Ratsiraka won 40 percent. A run-off was required to take place by mid-February 2002.

In November 1999 municipal polls resulted in overall success for independents who did not have close identification with particular party affiliations. Elections were held in December 2000 for provincial councils, as the next step in the government's decentralization policy. Approximately 150 parties are registered amid a welter of shifting political alliances. Opposition parties exist and are active. Parties in Madagascar suffer from internal divisions and a lack of resources.

Political and civic organizations exercise their right to affect the public policy process. In 1999, for example, opposition leaders and the Madagascar Council of Christian Churches undertook a public information campaign to revise the constitution to limit the powers of the president. In May 1999, former president Albert Zafy announced the Herim Panavotam Pirenena (HPP), an alliance of opposition parties. In 2000, opposition parties not represented in the legislature formed the Cellule de Crise (Crisis Cell) to unite against the ruling coalition. In January 2001, demonstrations occurred in the capital with opposition supporters calling for Ratsiraka to step down. They were enraged that their leader, opposition member of parliament Jean-Eugene Voninahitsy, had been jailed for insulting the head of state.

Overall the judiciary is, in general, demonstrating increasing autonomy, despite the supreme court's clearly unconstitutional decision to allow the postponement of elections in 1997. Lack of training, resources, and personnel hampers the courts' effectiveness. Case backlogs are prodigious. Most of the 20,000 people held in the country's prisons are pretrial detainees who suffer extremely harsh conditions. In many rural areas, customary law courts that follow neither due process nor standardized judicial procedure often issue summary and severe punishments.

In general the press enjoys considerable freedom. Several daily and weekly newspapers publish material sharply critical of the government and other parties and politicians. The state monopoly of radio and television has been abolished. In addition to state radio and television, at least ten private radio stations are now broadcasting, and rebroadcasts of Radio France International are available throughout the country.

Approximately 45 percent of the workforce is female. Malagasy women hold significantly more government and managerial positions than women in continental African countries. At the same time, they still face societal discrimination and enjoy fewer opportunities than men for higher education and official employment.

The right to free association is respected, and hundreds of nongovernmental organizations, including lawyers' and human rights groups, are active. The government does not interfere with religious rights. More than half of the population adhere to traditional Malagasy religions and coexist with Christians and Muslims. In 1997, the Rally for Madagascar's Muslim Democrats was registered as the country's first Islamic political party.

Workers' rights to join unions and to strike are exercised frequently. Some of the country's labor organizations are affiliated with political groups. More than four- fifths of the labor force is employed in agriculture, fishing, and forestry at subsistence wages.