Madagascar | Freedom House

Freedom in the World



Freedom in the World 2014

2014 Scores


Partly Free

Freedom Rating
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Civil Liberties
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Political Rights
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

Ratings Change: 

Madagascar’s political rights rating improved from 6 to 5 due to the holding of competitive and peaceful presidential and parliamentary elections that were deemed free and fair by international and regional observers.



In October 2013, following numerous delays, Madagascar held a generally peaceful first-round presidential election that was deemed free and fair. The election marked a significant step toward resolving a protracted political crisis that began with a 2009 military coup and the installation of Andry Rajoelina as president. Rajoelina continued to lead a transitional government throughout 2013, and former president Marc Ravalomanana, who was ousted by Rajoelina, remained in exile. The Special Electoral Court rejected the candidacies of Rajoelina; Lalao Ravalomanana, Marc Ravalomanana’s wife; and former president Didier Ratsiraka, who returned to Madagascar in April, ending an 11-year exile. A presidential runoff and legislative elections were held on December 20, though the official results had not yet been announced at year’s end.

The 2009 coup and ensuing political crisis seriously damaged Madagascar’s economy. Economic and security conditions remained strained in 2013, especially in the south. Following Rajoelina’s takeover, the international community imposed severe sanctions on the country—but continued to provide humanitarian aid—and tourists and foreign businesses stayed away. In September, the African Union acknowledged the progress toward elections by lifting personal sanctions it had imposed on Rajoelina and his allies in 2010.

The World Bank estimated in early 2013 that 84 percent of Malagasies would be below the poverty line during the year, and as of September, 90 percent of the population lived on less than two dollars a day. Economic hardship was exacerbated by a cyclone that struck in February and a locust plague that threatened crops on nearly two-thirds of the island.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 


Political Rights: 15 / 40 (+8) [Key]

A. Electoral Process: 6 / 12 (+5)

In early 2009, Ravalomanana handed power to the military following months of violent protests sparked by the closing of a television station owned by Rajoelina. The military quickly transferred power to Rajoelina, who suspended the elected bicameral parliament. Under an internationally mediated agreement in 2011, Rajoelina was recognized as interim president and appointed a transitional administration and parliament to serve until elections could be held.

In 2012, as part of the planned transition, a National Independent Electoral Commission was appointed to overhaul the inaccurate voter rolls and register voters for presidential and parliamentary elections. The elected president would serve up to two five-year terms, and the 151-seat National Assembly would serve five-year terms, with 64 seats filled through party-list voting in 32 multimember constituencies and 87 through majoritarian contests in single-member districts. Plans for the creation of an upper house, the Senate, were postponed indefinitely.

After further negotiations, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) endorsed a plan in December 2012 under which neither Rajoelina nor Ravalomanana would run in the presidential election. However, in April 2013, Lalao Ravalomanana filed papers to register her candidacy, prompting Rajoelina to renege and declare his own candidacy. The electoral commission approved both filings, as well as that of former president Ratsiraka, and delayed the vote until August 2013, prompting many international donors to suspend funding. In August, all three candidates were barred by the electoral court amid international pressure, and the first round of the presidential election was postponed again.

The presidential vote was finally held on October 25. Ravalomanana ally Jean Louis Robinson and Rajoelina ally Hery Rajaonarimampianina emerged as the leading candidates and faced off in a December 20 second round, which coincided with the National Assembly elections. The replacement of many regional governors with military officers in November raised concerns about possible rigging in the December balloting. Nevertheless, both the October and December elections were generally peaceful and deemed free and fair by the European Union and others. Both presidential candidates claimed victory, but official results were not released by year’s end.


B. Political Pluralism and Participation: 8 / 16 (+3)

Prior to the 2009 coup, approximately 150 parties were registered in Madagascar. However, 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. After Rajoelina took power, opposition political activity was circumscribed through arbitrary bans on meetings and protests, as well as harassment, arrests, and killings of opposition supporters. In July 2013, police arrested presidential hopeful Laza Razafiarison, a former World Bank analyst, and seven others during an unauthorized campaign rally. However, political parties were generally able to operate with increased openness ahead of the October 2013 presidential election, and over 30 candidates took part. Political parties continued to openly hold rallies leading up to the December elections. Presidential rallies were controversially attended by Rajoelina and Lalao Ravalomanana in support of their respective candidates.

During Rajoelina’s tenure, key political rivals were kept out of the country with the threat of arrest. Ravalomanana, who went into exile in South Africa after his ouster, was sentenced in absentia in 2010 to life in prison with hard labor for allegedly ordering the killing of at least 30 opposition protesters in February 2009. In 2012, a plane carrying the former president was prevented from landing in Madagascar. Also that year, despite pressure from SADC to pass an amnesty law that would allow for the unconditional return of all political exiles, the transitional parliament 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 2010 conviction.

In February 2013, Ravalomanana lost his appeal of a South African court’s order that he surrender his passport in connection with the 2009 massacre case. He remained in exile in South Africa at the end of 2013. Lalao Ravalomanana returned to Madagascar in March.


C. Functioning of Government: 1 / 12

Corruption worsened after the 2009 coup and remains a major problem, 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 2012, Madagascar published its EITI report for 2010. The report showed 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 iron-ore drilling. Illegally harvested rosewood and other precious timbers continued to be smuggled offshore in 2013. Madagascar was ranked 127 out of 177 countries and territories surveyed in Transparency International’s 2013 Corruption Perceptions Index.


Civil Liberties: 28 / 60

D. Freedom of Expression and Belief: 9 / 16

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. In 2012, Free FM, the last opposition radio station, shut down due to intimidation from the transitional government after having broadcast statements by the leaders of an army mutiny; it remained closed until December 2013, when it resumed broadcasting.

In late 2012, Free FM editors Lalatiana Rakotondrazafy and Fidel Razara Pierre were convicted and sentenced to three years in prison for allegedly organizing an illegal demonstration in May of that year, when thousands of people rallied in Antananarivo in support of the station. Despite the verdict, Rakotondrazafy and Pierre remained free pending an appeal during 2013, and they organized supporters of Free FM into a new political party that participated in the December parliamentary elections. Pierre stood as a candidate for the party.

The Malagasy people have traditionally enjoyed religious freedom, but the transitional authorities subjected a Protestant denomination associated with Ravalomanana to discrimination and harassment, and members of the Muslim community have reported some forms of discrimination. Academic freedom is generally respected.


E. Associational and Organizational Rights: 7 / 12

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 July 2013, police advised protesters to avoid political demonstrations, alleging an opposition conspiracy to incite violence. In August, pro-Ravalomanana demonstrators took to the streets to protest the rejection of Lalao Ravalomanana’s presidential candidacy by the Special Electoral Court.

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. The transitional government has generally allowed strikes by public-sector unions to go forward. More than 80 percent of workers are engaged in agriculture, fishing, and forestry at a subsistence level.


F. Rule of Law: 5 / 16

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. Nevertheless, the Special Electoral Court demonstrated a degree of independence by barring Rajoelina, Lalao Ravalomanana, and Ratsiraka from participating in the 2013 elections. 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—continued in 2013. Security operations to rein in the bandits have led to mass killings of civilians and indiscriminate burning of villages. In July 2013, at least 73 people were killed in clashes between cattle raiders and security forces. Separately, in March, a mob invaded a prison in search of suspects detained for the murder of a respected nun. Police fired into the crowd, killing two people.

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. LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) people also face discrimination from some segments of the state and society, and conditions reportedly grew worse after the 2009 coup.


G. Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights: 7 / 16

Despite government efforts and decentralized village patrols, free movement is hampered in the regions tormented by the well-armed dahalo groups. Dahalo raids have led to an uptick in domestic refugees, and security patrols cease operations after dark.

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 of an increase in domestic violence since the coup, as personal conflicts arise over dwindling family resources. According to the U.S. State Department’s 2013 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. However, the report found that the transitional government made greater efforts to combat the problem than it had in previous years.


Scoring Key: X / Y (Z)

X = Score Received

Y = Best Possible Score

Z = Change from Previous Year

Full Methodology