An unelected administration governed Madagascar following a 2009 coup, but the country returned to electoral politics in 2013. Politics since have been unstable, and government corruption and a lack of accountability persist. Defamation and other laws restrict press freedom. Authorities frequently deny permits for demonstrations, and disperse many that take place. The government has struggled to manage lawlessness, particularly in the south. However, the courts have shown increasing independence, and in 2018 issued rulings that calmed an escalating political crisis.
Key Developments in 2018:
- In April, the Malagasy legislature passed a new electoral law, parts of which opposition leaders said were unconstitutional and intended to make it difficult to challenge the incumbent in the upcoming presidential election. In a May decision that reflected its independence from the executive, the High Constitutional Court (HCC) struck down the sections in question.
- The electoral law controversy prompted mass demonstrations among opposition supporters, and two people were killed at one such protest in April when police fired on participants. The demonstrations continued after the HCC’s decision to void the relevant parts of the law, with participants doubling down on calls for President Hery Rajaonarimampianina to resign.
- As the political crisis worsened, the HCC in late May ruled that the president must dissolve the government and appoint a consensus prime minister and unity government. In June, President Rajaonarimampianina appointed Christian Ntsay to serve as prime minister. The country’s local representative of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), Ntsay was seen as a compromise candidate who could help resolve the crisis.
- The presidential election was held in two rounds in November and December. Provisional results showed that Andry Rajoelina had bested Marc Ravalomanana (both former presidents) in the runoff. While Ravalomanana alleged fraud, civil society and international observers assessed the polls as credible, and the HCC was expected to confirm the results in January 2019.
POLITICAL RIGHTS: 24 / 40
A. ELECTORAL PROCESS: 9 / 12
A1. Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections? 3 / 4
Madagascar is a semipresidential republic, with a president elected for a five-year term and a prime minister nominated by the National Assembly and appointed by the president. Rajaonarimampianina of the New Forces for Madagascar party (HVM) was elected president in 2013; neither Rajoelina nor Ravalomanana ran in the election under an internationally brokered agreement aimed at resolving an ongoing political crisis. In September 2018, Rajaonarimampianina resigned in order to stand in the next election. Rivo Rakotovao, president of the Senate, took over as acting president until the inauguration of the new elected president.
The first round of the 2018 election was held in November, and contested among 36 candidates. Rajoelina and Ravalomanana emerged as the top two candidates by a wide margin, though neither took more than the 50 percent necessary to avoid a runoff. The runoff took place in December, and provisional results released by the election commission at the end of the year showed that Rajoelina had bested Ravalomanana, with 55 percent of the vote. Ravalomanana alleged “massive fraud,” and his supporters staged protests.
While a bitter rivalry between Rajoelina and Ravalomanana persists, campaigning in 2018 was relatively peaceful. Despite Ravalomanana’s protests (and earlier allegations of fraud in the first round, by Rajaonarimampianina, who finished a distant third), civil society and international observers accepted the results of both election rounds. The High Constitutional Court (HCC) was expected to confirm the results in January 2019.
Christian Ntsay was appointed prime minister in June 2018, after the HCC ordered then president Rajaonarimampianina to dissolve his government and name a consensus prime minister in order to bring about a resolution to a worsening political crisis.
A2. Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections? 3 / 4
The bicameral legislature consists of the 63-seat Senate, in which one-third of seats are appointed by the president; the remaining two-thirds are indirectly elected from an electoral college; senators serve five-year terms. Members of the 151-seat National Assembly are directly elected to five-year terms. The National Assembly elections, organized with the presidential election in 2013, were deemed competitive and credible by international observers, though irregularities with the voter rolls were noted. The With Andry Rajoelina (MAPAR) party won 49 of 151 National Assembly seats, and over 50 other parties and independent candidates took the remainder. The next elections are scheduled in 2019, as the term of office expires in February of that year.
The HVM won more than half the races in 2015 Senate elections. Though the electoral process was relatively free and fair, the opposition made accusations of fraud, and challenged the results. Ultimately, the HCC upheld the elections’ results in early 2016.
A3. Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies? 3 / 4
The Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) is subject to some influence by the executive, which controls member nomination and budget allocation processes. A new electoral code was adopted in April 2018, though provisions that would have prevented Rajoelina and Ravalomanana from running prompted mass demonstrations, and were ruled unconstitutional by the HCC in early May.
B. POLITICAL PLURALISM AND PARTICIPATION: 10 / 16
B1. 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? 3 / 4
Almost 200 registered political parties participated in recent elections. However, the political parties law is widely viewed as a flawed document that places undue burdens on individual candidates, effectively mandating a high cost for political candidacy. Political leaders frequently use religion, ethnicity, and caste as instruments to mobilize voters.
B2. Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections? 3 / 4
Opposition parties have the opportunity to increase their support through elections, but most political parties lack the financial resources to engage in vibrant competition. The vast majority of candidates running in the 2018 presidential election were perceived as attempting to establish status, with the aim of winning cabinet or other positions in an administration headed by either Rajoelina or Ravalomanana.
The government habitually denies opposition parties permits to hold demonstrations, and opposition and independent political figures have experienced harassment in the form of frivolous legal cases.
B3. Are the people’s political choices free from domination by the military, foreign powers, religious hierarchies, economic oligarchies, or any other powerful group that is not democratically accountable? 2 / 4
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, and democratic accountability is reduced.
The military also has some influence over politics. As the 2018 political crisis escalated in the spring, it threatened to intervene if leaders could not reach an agreement.
B4. Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, religious, gender, LGBT, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities? 2 / 4
The constitution guarantees political and electoral rights for all citizens, but in practice, discrimination impedes the political representation of some groups. While there is a small, active LGBT community in the capital, LGBT people face social stigma that discourages political participation and open advocacy for LGBT rights. Cultural norms can restrict the political participation of women, who hold approximately 20 percent of Senate and National Assembly seats. Muslims 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.
C. FUNCTIONING OF GOVERNMENT: 5 / 12
C1. Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government? 2 / 4
Following a 2009 coup, the country returned to electoral politics in 2013. However, government instability since has been reflected in the frequent replacement of the prime minister, and frequent changes to the composition of the cabinet. In June 2018, in response to a HCC ruling intended to resolve an escalating political crisis, Rajaonarimampianina appointed Ntsay, the country’s local representative of the ILO, to serve as prime minister. A consensus government was set up days later.
According to the constitution, the president determines policies, and Parliament writes laws and votes on them. However, in practice the National Assembly lacks the strength to act as an effective check on executive power. Additionally, economic elites have significant influence on the president and other elected officials.
C2. Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective? 1 / 4
Corruption remains a serious problem in Madagascar, despite a series of recent reforms and anticorruption strategies aimed at addressing it. Investigations and prosecutions of corruption by the underfunded Independent Anticorruption Bureau (BIANCO) are infrequent, and rarely target high-level officials.
C3. Does the government operate with openness and transparency? 2 / 4
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.
CIVIL LIBERTIES: 32 / 60
D. FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION AND BELIEF: 10 / 16
D1. Are there free and independent media? 2 / 4
The constitution provides for freedom of the press. However, this guarantee is 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. The government controls the issuance of broadcast licenses and can confiscate equipment or shut down stations if they are deemed to have violated the Communications Code.
In September 2018, the government banned the publication of the results of one preelection poll. In October, a radio station was shut down in Morondava for allegedly issuing calls to revolt.
D2. Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private? 2 / 4
Religious freedom is provided for in the constitution, though this right is upheld inconsistently. Religious leaders have noted that some workers were unable to practice their religion due to poor enforcement of labor laws. The government has restricted the Muslim community’s access to education by threatening to close down Islamic schools. Several church facilities have been attacked by armed individuals, some apparently attempting robberies.
D3. Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination? 3 / 4
Academic freedom is generally respected. However, a lack of resources and frequent strikes hamper normal operations of public universities.
D4. Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution? 3 / 4
There were no official reports of the government monitoring online activity. However, a cybercrimes law prohibits online defamation, and has been used to prosecute social media users.
E. ASSOCIATIONAL AND ORGANIZATIONAL RIGHTS: 8 / 12
E1. Is there freedom of assembly? 2 / 4
The constitution guarantees freedom of assembly, but authorities routinely decline requests for protests and rallies in the name of public security. Political demonstrators risk violence from security forces. In April 2018, two people were killed and more than a dozen were injured when police fired upon a mass demonstration against proposed electoral laws that would have prevented Rajoelina and Ravalomanana from running in the year’s presidential election. Days later, authorities announced that all political demonstrations were prohibited. Nevertheless, demonstrations took place later in the year, including among Ravalomanana’s supporters, who disputed provisional results showing that Rajoelina had won the presidency.
E2. Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work? 3 / 4
Freedom of association is provided for in the constitution and is generally respected. A wide variety of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) are active. Although no restrictions are placed on NGOs, the government is not always receptive to their opinions. Domestic human rights groups often lack the resources to operate independently. Groups focused on the environment or human rights face pressure from powerful interests.
E3. Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations? 3 / 4
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: 7 / 16 (+1)
F1. Is there an independent judiciary? 2 / 4 (+1)
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 in particular are seen as overburdened and corrupt.
However, in 2018, key HCC rulings reflected its independence from the executive. The court ruled in early May to strike down election laws that would have prevented key figures from competing against President Rajaonarimampianina in the year’s presidential election. The court weeks later ruled that the president must dissolve the government and appoint a consensus prime minister and unity government that reflected the results of the 2013 election. The decision, meant to bring about a resolution to an escalating political crisis, was formally predicated on Rajaonarimampianina’s failure to constitute a new court to adjudicate political disputes and allegations of high level misconduct.
Score Change: The score improved from 1 to 2 because the High Constitutional Court issued key rulings that reflected its independence from the executive.
F2. Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters? 1 / 4
Due process rights are poorly upheld. A lack of training, resources, and personnel hampers the effectiveness of the criminal justice system. Case backlogs are lengthy, and, as of 2017, 55 percent of all prisoners were being detained before facing trial, according to an October 2018 report by the rights group Amnesty International. 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.
F3. Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies? 2 / 4
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.
Detainees and prisoners suffer from harsh and sometimes life-threatening conditions due to overcrowding in detention facilities, and substandard hygiene and health care. People convicted of crimes can be sentenced to hard labor.
F4. Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population? 2 / 4
Legal provisions prohibit discrimination based on race, gender, disability, and social status, but these are upheld inconsistently. Traditional, cultural, social, and economic constraints can prevent women from having equal opportunities as men. Some ethnic groups face discrimination outside of their home regions. There are no legal protections against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, and members of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) community face social stigma, particularly in rural areas, and experience employment discrimination and occasional acts of violence. Muslims have experienced employment and education discrimination.
G. PERSONAL AUTONOMY AND INDIVIDUAL RIGHTS: 7 / 16 (−1)
G1. Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education? 2 / 4 (−1)
Citizens are generally allowed to move freely within Madagascar, and may travel internationally. However, authorities have struggled to address bandit attacks in the south and even in the west, and travel in affected areas is dangerous.
Score Change: The score declined from 3 to 2 because authorities have struggled to address activity by bandits that has made travel dangerous in the south and parts of the west.
G2. Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors? 2 / 4
Madagascar’s legal structure provides protections for private property rights, though enforcement of these protections is inconsistent, in part because the vast majority of farmers do not hold the 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 procedures to register a business, and simplifying the payment of registration fees.
G3. Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance? 2 / 4
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. No law prohibits same-sex sexual relations.
G4. Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation? 1 / 4
Most people work in subsistence agriculture, making advancement in the local economy extremely challenging.
Government officials have been implicated in colluding with human trafficking offenders, and no effort has been made to investigate the allegations.