AFRICA/MADAGASCAR - Low voter turnout in the presidential election: “The population no longer knows what to do”

Friday, 17 November 2023 elections   bishops  

Antananarivo (Agenzia Fides) - Low voter turnout is the first important aspect of the first round of presidential elections that took place yesterday, November 16, in Madagascar. And there has also been controversy between the government and the opposition regarding the data on abstention. According to official figures, only 39% of eligible voters cast their votes. The alliance of 10 opponents of outgoing President Andry Rajoelina, however, claims that the abstention rate was 20 percent, "the lowest voter turnout in the history of Madagascar." The low voter turnout is explained by independent observers as a result of the tense political climate that has prevailed on the island for months and even raised doubts about the conduct of the election on November 16th. The political crisis erupted in June when it was revealed that Andry Rajoelina had accepted French citizenship in 2014 without informing the public. According to the opposition, he should therefore not have been allowed to run again, but the courts refused to declare his candidacy invalid. The elections were boycotted by the majority of opposition candidates, and voters were ultimately able to choose between only three candidates. Meanwhile, the security forces' violent crackdown on protests ahead of the election, the struggling economy, lack of social services and widespread poverty have dented the outgoing president's popularity. Rajoelina, elected in 2018, came to power for the first time in 2009, thanks to an uprising that deposed former President Marc Ravalomanana (see Fides 20/3/2009 and 23/3/2009). Malagasy bishops commented on the current political crisis in a message published at the beginning of November, in which they stated: "Many politicians and the (economically) wealthy seem to believe that Madagascar is their private property and that they can do whatever they want with it." The bishops emphasized that "the population no longer knows what to do." "We appeal to politicians, civil servants and especially to those responsible and candidates in the country: Give the people, who are entitled to rights and obligations, their share of prosperity. Let them plan their future freely and in accordance with the law through elections." In their message, the bishops called on candidates to "stop buying votes." Finally, the Episcopal Conference called on the population to "take responsibility for being the owners of Madagascar. Follow what your conscience tells you. Do not let money or other things guide your choice. We must be calm in the face of the practices of politicians that divide us. The results of the first round of the presidential election will be announced on November 24th. The runoff election is scheduled for December 20th. (L.M.) (Agenzia Fides, 17/11/2023)