Madagascar | Freedom House

Freedom in the World



Freedom in the World 2015

2015 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 5 to 4 due to a peaceful transition after recovery from an earlier coup and the seating of a new parliament that included significant opposition representation.


Political and economic progress in Madagascar continued to make incremental gains in 2014 in the wake of setbacks resulting from the 2009 governmental coup and dissolution of parliament under transitional president Andry Rajoelina. Hery Rajaonarimampianina, a former finance minister, became the first post-coup, democratically elected president in January 2014. He succeeded Rajoelina, his supporter, after 2013 elections that outside international observers deemed free and fair. Rajaonarimampianina later broke with Rajoelina. In December 2014 he took steps toward national reconciliation, inviting four of his presidential predecessors, including Rajoelina and Marc Ravalomanana, to meet for talks supported by the Southern African Development Community (SADC). Ravalomanana was under house arrest at the time and attended the talks under military escort.

The 2009 coup and ensuing political crisis seriously damaged Madagascar’s economy through the loss of foreign investments and direct aid. The World Bank estimates that 82 percent of Malagasies live in extreme poverty. Economic and security conditions remain strained, especially in the South, but the international community has begun reversing severe sanctions imposed under Rajoelina. The African Union lifted its suspension on Madagascar’s membership following the success of the 2013 elections, and $95 million in World Bank funding, which was contingent on the appointment of a prime minister, was approved anew in December, boosting the public service and job creation. International Monetary Fund (IMF) funding resumed in March 2014, and the United States reinstated Madagascar’s eligibility for financial assistance in June.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

Political Rights: 22 / 40 (+7) [Key]

A. Electoral Process: 9 / 12 (+3)

Under its constitution, Madagascar has a bicameral parliament consisting of a 151-seat National Assembly and a 33-member Senate, but the legislative body has not been fully functional since the forcible ouster of President Ravalomanana by military coup in 2009. Madagascar was governed until 2014 under interim president Rajoelina by an unelected transitional legislature. Parliamentary elections were postponed nine times from 2010 to 2013, until elections for the National Assembly finally took place in 2013, concurrent with the country’s presidential election. Both the newly elected president and National Assembly members took office in 2014.

Members of parliament serve five-year terms. In the National Assembly, 64 seats are filled through party-list voting in 32 multimember constituencies, and 87 through majoritarian contests in single-member districts. In the Senate, one member from each of the 22 districts of Madagascar are to be elected, and the remaining 11 will be appointed by the president. Plans for the creation of the Senate have been postponed indefinitely. The president is elected by popular vote and serves a five-year term. The prime minister is nominated by the National Assembly and appointed by the president.

Hery Rajaonarimampianina, backed by Rajoelina, became the first democratically elected president under Madagascar’s 2010 constitution, following a 2013 runoff against opponent Jean Louis Robinson, the candidate backed by former president Ravolomanana. Rajaonarimampianina won with 54 percent of the vote. Although he initially claimed election fraud, Robinson accepted defeat and attended Rajaonarimampianina’s swearing-in ceremony in January 2014 as a gesture of national reconciliation. In August 2013 the Special Electoral Court rejected the candidacies of Rajoelina, Ravalomanana’s wife Lalao, and former president Didier Ratsiraka.

In parliamentary elections, the With Andry Rajoelina (MAPAR) party won 49 seats out of 151, the Ravalomanana Movement took 20, the Vondrona Politika Miara-Dia–Malagasy Miara-Miainga (VPM-MMM) party won 13, and various other parties and independent candidates took the remainder. Both the October elections and the December presidential runoff election were generally peaceful and deemed free and fair by the European Union and others. However, the December turnout was only 51 percent and several million people were left off the voter roles.

Parliament was seated for the first time in April 2014. Despite speculation, Rajoelina did not pursue the role of prime minister, and the president rejected Rajoelina’s handpicked associate. Roger Kolo, a former radiologist who returned to Madagascar after 30 years abroad, was appointed as prime minister with wide support among the 12 parties represented in the National Assembly.


B. Political Pluralism and Participation: 9 / 16 (+1)

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 2013, political parties were generally able to operate ahead of the presidential election; 33 candidates took part. Presidential rallies were controversially attended by Rajoelina and Lalao Ravalomanana in support of their respective candidates, Rajaonarimampianina and Robinson.

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 2010 in absentia to life in prison with hard labor for allegedly ordering the killing of at least 30 opposition protesters in 2009. In 2012, the transitional parliament approved an amnesty law that excluded those who had committed “serious violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms,” such as murder. This made Ravalomanana ineligible.

In 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 returned to Madagascar in October 2014 and was promptly arrested. In late December, he was transferred from a detention facility to house arrest, where he remained at year’s end. No new charges were brought against him.


C. Functioning of Government: 4 / 12 (+3)

The elections returned freely elected officials to determine the policies of the government. For the first time since the 2009 coup, officials could govern without the direct inclusion of former presidents.

Corruption worsened after the coup and remains a major problem, due in part to the transitional government’s failure to enforce antigraft laws. In July 2014, Prime Minister Kolo stated that 40 percent of the national budget was lost to corruption. He pledged to restructure the anticorruption bureau. Madagascar was ranked 133 out of 175 countries and territories surveyed in Transparency International’s 2014 Corruption Perceptions Index.

Despite a 2010 decree that prohibited the logging, transport, trading, and export of precious woods, the illegal trade continues. In June 2014, the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) lifted its three-year suspension of Madagascar, citing the commitments of the new elected government to EITI standards. The 2010 EITI report, published despite the suspension, showed that the government had doubled its income from natural resources to around $145 million. Illegally harvested rosewood and other precious timbers continue to be smuggled offshore.


Civil Liberties: 30 / 60 (+2)

D. Freedom of Expression and Belief: 9 / 16

The constitution provides for freedoms of speech and of the press. While Rajoelina’s transitional government routinely ignored press freedom, the new government has demonstrated greater respect for media freedom and freedom of expression. Government censorship and intimidation of journalists continue, though at reduced levels. In June, parliament adopted a broad cybercrime law that punishes online defamation of state officials with up to five years’ imprisonment. In July 2014, two newspaper journalists were arrested briefly on defamation charges related to reporting on the trafficking of rosewood. The charges were dropped within a few days.

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


E. Associational and Organizational Rights: 8 / 12 (+1)

Freedom of assembly was severely curtailed following the unrest in 2009, and officials of Rajoelina’s transitional government and the security forces routinely denied permission for demonstrations and forcibly repressed gatherings. Repression of political gatherings has generally declined in the past two years and political rallies were largely allowed leading up to the 2013 elections. Nevertheless, political demonstrators still face violence. In January 2014, a student was killed during a protest of the election results.

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. 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.


F. Rule of Law: 6 / 16 (+1)

The judiciary remains susceptible to corruption and executive influence. In April 2014, Rajaonarimampianina appointed a new president and three other new members to the High Constitutional Court (HCC) after a court ruling that thwarted the appointment of his supporters’ chosen prime minister. Although legal, the new appointments were clearly made in the president’s interests and raised concerns about the separation of powers. The acquiescence of the HCC in the face of Rajoelina’s unconstitutional rise to power highlighted its weakness as an institution, and subsequent judicial decisions have been tainted by frequent intimidation. The Special Electoral Court, in contrast, demonstrated a degree of independence by barring Rajoelina, Lalao Ravalomanana, and Ratsiraka from running in the 2013 presidential 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. In December 2014, parliament unanimously voted to abolish the death penalty. Customary-law courts in rural areas continue to lack due process guarantees and regularly issue summary and severe punishments.

The army and security forces remain largely beyond civilian control. In January 2014, Rajaonarimampianina took steps to disband a transition-era security force widely regarded as Rajoelina’s personal unit. Clashes in the South among villagers, security forces, and cattle thieves known as dahalos—who are affiliated with criminal gangs—continued in 2014. Security operations to rein in the bandits have led to mass killings of civilians and indiscriminate burning of villages. In February, a shootout between security forces and dahalos resulted in more than 15 deaths, including several civilians. In October, thousands of dahalos surrendered in exchange for amnesty, though violence continues to plague the region. In cities, in contrast, the security situation has improved since the elections.

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 Merina tend to have higher status than the côtier. Ethnicity, caste, and regional solidarity often lead to discrimination. Same-sex sexual relations are not criminalized, but LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) people still face discrimination from some segments of the state and society. Conditions for LGBT people reportedly worsened following 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 internally displaced people, and security patrols cease operations after dark.

Madagascar’s legal structure provides protections for private property rights, and secured interests in property are recognized though not entirely enforced. Foreigners are prohibited from owning land.

Malagasy women hold significantly more government and managerial positions than women in many continental African countries. The number of women in parliament increased from 18 to 23 in 2014. However, women 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 2014 Trafficking in Persons Report, weakened rule of law and a decline in economic development since the coup have led to more Malagasy women and children trafficked for forced labor and sex work. The report found that combatting the problem was not a government priority from April 2013 to March 2014.


Scoring Key: X / Y (Z)

X = Score Received

Y = Best Possible Score

Z = Change from Previous Year

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