Madagascar | Freedom House

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Freedom in the World 2013

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Trend Arrow: 

Madagascar received a downward trend arrow due to increasing repression and physical and economic insecurity—including intimidation of journalists, violence in the south, and a rise in human trafficking—caused by ongoing political instability that began with a 2009 coup.


Madagascar made uneven progress in implementing an internationally brokered road map intended to resolve a protracted political crisis, as presidential and legislative elections scheduled for 2012 were pushed back to 2013. De facto president Andry Rajoelina—who took power after a 2009 military coup—continued to lead a transitional government, and former president Marc Ravalomanana, who was ousted by Rajoelina, remained in exile. Meanwhile, the transitional government continued to harass and intimidate opponents and restrict press freedom, and economic and security conditions deteriorated, especially in the south.

Madagascar gained independence in 1960 after 70 years of French colonial rule. A leftist military junta seized power in 1972. Admiral Didier Ratsiraka emerged as leader in 1975 and retained power until his increasingly authoritarian regime bowed to social unrest and nonviolent mass demonstrations in 1991.

Under a new constitution, opposition leader Albert Zafy won the 1992 presidential election. Following Zafy’s impeachment in 1996, Ratsiraka won that year’s presidential runoff vote. Opposition candidate and Antananarivo mayor Marc Ravalomanana was eventually declared the winner of the 2001 presidential election after protracted political infighting, but Ratsiraka refused to acknowledge the result amid considerable violence between supporters of the two candidates. Sporadic clashes continued until July 2002, when Ratsiraka left the country.

Ravalomanana’s party, I Love Madagascar (TIM), won a large majority in the 2002 parliamentary elections, and Ravalomanana secured a second term the 2006 presidential poll. A 2007 constitutional referendum increased presidential powers, and Ravalomanana’s authority was bolstered again in parliamentary elections held later that year, in which TIM captured 106 of the 127 seats. Andry Rajoelina, a young and charismatic opposition candidate, was elected mayor of Antananarivo in December.

In December 2008, the government closed a television station run by Rajoelina, triggering months of violent protests in Antananarivo. Rajoelina called on Ravalomanana to resign, and declared himself president. The crisis deepened in early 2009, with some army officers announcing their support for the opposition. In March, Ravalomanana handed power to the military, which quickly transferred it to Rajoelina.

Rajoelina suspended the parliament, suppressed opposition protests, and limited press freedom. In August 2009, the various political factions backing Rajoelina reached a tentative power-sharing deal, brokered by the Southern African Development Community (SADC), with former presidents Ravalomanana, Zafy, and Ratsiraka. Rajoelina later reneged on the pact, and subsequent internationally mediated deals also collapsed.

The political climate became further polarized after Ravalomanana, who was living in exile in South Africa, was sentenced in absentia in August 2010 to life with hard labor for ordering the killing of at least 30 opposition protesters in February 2009. In a November 2010 referendum boycotted by the opposition, voters approved constitutional changes sought by Rajoelina, including lowering the minimum age for the president from 40 to 35. (Rajoelina turned 38 in May 2012.)

Internationally mediated talks continued, and in March 2011, SADC agreed to support a plan recognizing Rajoelina as interim president until elections, as long as the opposition was fairly represented in the transitional administration. After sustained pressure by SADC and the European Union, an amended road map was initialed in September by all the main parties except Ratsiraka. The deal legitimized Rajoelina as Madagascar’s interim president, provided for the unconditional return of Ravalomanana, and called for elections to be held within one year, a transitional administration that included all parties to lead the country to the elections, and the passage of an amnesty law for those accused of political crimes. Rajoelina named a consensus prime minister in October, and in December he appointed a transitional parliament that included supporters of all signatories of the road map.

In 2012, Madagascar made halting progress in implementing the road map, including appointing a National Independent Electoral Commission of the Transition in March that was tasked with overhauling the inaccurate voter rolls and registering voters in preparation for presidential and parliamentary elections. However, the elections, originally mandated by the road map to be held by November 2012, were delayed until May 2013 for president and July 2013 for parliament.

Ravalomanana’s status continued to be a main sticking point toward genuine resolution of the political crisis. In January 2012, a plane carrying the former president was forced to turn around in mid-air after being prevented from landing in Antananarivo, sparking protests by Ravalomanana’s supporters. Despite pressure from SADC to pass an amnesty law that would allow for the unconditional return of all political exiles—as called for in the road map—the transitional parliament in April approved a law that excluded those who had committed “serious violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms,” such as murder. This made Ravalomanana ineligible for the amnesty due to his August 2010 conviction. Rajoelina and Ravalomanana held face-to-face talks led by SADC mediators in July and August, but were unable to agree to conditions for the former president’s return.

In a sign of increasing discontent in the army ranks, soldiers in July—just prior to Rajoelina’s talks with Ravalomanana—mutinied. The mutiny, the third since Rajoelina took power, was quickly put down, and its leader and at least two others were killed.

In November, a South African court ordered Ravalomanana to surrender his passport after alleged victims of the 2009 massacre requested that he be investigated for crimes against humanity, under a law that allows South African courts to hear cases that fall under the jurisdiction of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

In December, SADC leaders endorsed a plan under which neither Rajoelina nor Ravalomanana would contest the presidential election, arguing that it was the only way for the transition to move forward successfully. Ravalomanana later that month pledged that he would not run, and Rajoelina indicated that he might follow suit.

The 2009 coup and ensuing political crisis seriously damaged Madagascar’s economy. Following Rajoelina’s takeover, the international community levied severe sanctions on the country—but continued to provide humanitarian aid—and tourists and foreign business stayed away. The road map, if implemented in full, could allow for the lifting of sanctions and the renewal of development assistance and budget support.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

Madagascar is not an electoral democracy. Andry Rajoelina assumed the presidency in March 2009 in an unconstitutional manner. The elected bicameral parliament was suspended in March 2009, and the transitional parliament appointed by Rajoelina in December 2011 will remain in place until elections are held.

Prior to the 2009 coup, there were approximately 150 parties registered, although only a few had a national presence and they tended to suffer from internal divisions, shifting alliances, and a lack of resources and clear ideology. Since Rajoelina took power, opposition political activity has been circumscribed through arbitrary bans on meetings and protests, as well as harassment, arrests, and killings of opposition supporters.

Corruption remains a major problem and worsened in the wake of the coup, due in part to the transitional government’s failure to enforce antigraft laws. In spite of a 2010 decree that prohibited the logging, transport, trading, and export of precious woods, the illegal trade continues. In 2011, the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) suspended Madagascar on the grounds that the program could not be effectively implemented under the transitional government. Nevertheless, in September 2012, Madagascar published its EITI report for 2010, showing that the government had doubled its income from natural resources, to around $145 million, including a $100 million payment from China’s Wuhan Iron & Steel Co. for exploratory drilling for iron ore. Madagascar was ranked 118 out of 176 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2012 Corruption Perceptions Index.

The constitution provides for freedoms of speech and of the press. However, Rajoelina has largely ignored these protections, and the independent outlets that have remained in operation are subject to government censorship, harassment, and intimidation, and practice varying levels of self-censorship. In May 2012, the transitional government jailed Lalatiana Rakotondrazafy and Fidel Razara Pierre, the editors of Free FM, the last opposition radio station, in connection with a probe into libel charges brought by businessman and regime supporter Mamy Ravatomanga. In July, Free FM shut down due to intimidation from the transitional government after having broadcast statements by the leaders of the army mutiny earlier that month, and it remained closed at year’s end. Rakotondrazafy and Pierre took refuge at the South African embassy in September, but left a month later after negotiations with the transitional government. In November, the two journalists were convicted of defaming Ravatomanga and sentenced to fines and three months in prison; they remained free at year’s end.

The Malagasy people have traditionally enjoyed religious freedom, though religious organizations are required to register with the Ministry of the Interior. There are no limitations on academic freedom.

Freedom of assembly has been severely curtailed since the unrest in early 2009, and officials of the transitional government and the security forces routinely deny permission for demonstrations or forcibly repress gatherings. In May, the police shot two people during a rally in support of Free FM and press freedom. Freedom of association is generally respected, and hundreds of nongovernmental organizations, including human rights groups, are active. Workers have the right to join unions, engage in collective bargaining, and strike. There were strikes by several public sector unions in 2012, and the transitional government allowed most to go forward. More than 80 percent of workers are engaged in agriculture, fishing, and forestry at a subsistence level.

The judiciary remains susceptible to corruption and executive influence. Its acquiescence in the face of Rajoelina’s unconstitutional rise to power highlighted its weakness as an institution, and subsequent judicial decisions were tainted by frequent intimidation. A lack of training, resources, and personnel hampers judicial effectiveness, and case backlogs are prodigious. More than half of the people held in the country’s prisons are pretrial detainees, and prisoners suffer from harsh and sometimes life-threatening conditions. Customary-law courts in rural areas continue to lack due process guarantees and regularly issue summary and severe punishments.

The army and security forces have largely been beyond civilian control since the 2009 coup, and crime, violence, and insecurity have risen. Clashes in the south among villagers, security forces, and cattle thieves known as dahalos—who had come to be affiliated with criminal gangs—killed as many as 250 people in the first nine months of 2012. In September, the security forces launched a special operation to rein in the bandits, but also engaged in mass killings of civilians and indiscriminately burned villages.

Since the coup, the de facto government has proven unable or unwilling to stop the illegal trade in rare timber, minerals, and endangered wildlife. This in turn has weakened protections of the country’s delicate ecosystem and undermined the ability of parts of the population to earn a living.

A political cleavage has traditionally existed between the coastal côtier and the highland Merina peoples, of continental African and Southeast Asian origins, respectively. Due to past military conquest and long-standing political dominance, the status of the Merina tends to be higher than that of the côtier. Ethnicity, caste, and regional solidarity are often factors that lead to discrimination.

Malagasy women hold significantly more government and managerial positions than women in many continental African countries. However, they still face societal discrimination and enjoy fewer opportunities than men for higher education and employment. There have been reports that domestic violence has risen in the wake of the coup, as personal conflicts arise over dwindling family resources. According to the U.S. State Department’s 2012 Trafficking in Persons Report, weakened rule of law and a decline in economic development since the coup have led to an increase in the number of Malagasy women and children trafficked to the Middle East for forced labor and sex work. The transitional government has made little effort to combat trafficking or prosecute offenders.