In yet another eventful change in power for Madagascar, Andry Rajoelina officially took over the office of president on January 18th, 2019 after winning elections in 2018. While the ceremony of his inauguration on Friday was peaceful, Rajoelina’s path back into the office of president has not been easy. The announcement of his win toward the end of 2018 was accompanied by claims of fraud by opponent Marc Ravalomanana and violent demonstrations earlier after the High Constitutional Court of Madagascar affirmed the contested win. The ceremony itself was non-violent yet tense, with incumbent and opposing candidate Hery Rajaonarimampianina present, who advocated against Rajoelina’s eligibility to run for president because of his involvement in Madagascar’s coup d’etat in 2009. Rajoelina and Rajaonarimampianina were once political allies though, as Rajoelina endorsed Rajaonarimampianina in the 2013 elections. Rajoelina’s presidency is just now officially beginning, but the controversy and demonstrations have been relevant since he was first announced as a leading candidate in the polls.
A former president whom Rajoelina forced out of office in a 2009 coup, Ravalomanana immediately accused Rajoelina of fraud following the announcement of the election results despite both sides having previously agreed to accept the results of the election regardless of who won. Ravalomanana is cited by Africa News to have explained that he would only have respected the results of the elections if “the rules [were] respected,” but that “unfortunately, this [was] not the case.” Ravalomanana took the matter to the High Commission Court, who affirmed Rajoelina’s win, with 55.66% of votes compared to Ravalomanana’s 44.34%. Rajoelina responded to claims of fraud, saying “We do not cheat. We do not know how to cheat,” according to Africa News. Ravalomanana claimed the electoral commission had facilitated Rajoelina’s win by only posting polls where Rajoelina was in the lead, despite the European Union Observer Mission commending the commission for its peaceful and transparent reflection of the election.
Despite the pro-Ravalomanana demonstrations that turned violent earlier this month, the official ceremony took place in a rather uneventful fashion. The fact that none of the candidates incited demonstrations with open accusations or called for uprisings contributed to the peaceful manner in which the ceremony took place. While politics have become more tense in Madagascar for a while following the exile of former president Ratsiraka in 2003 due to fraud and corruption accusations, measures need to be taken by the government to affirm the validity of elections through increased transparency but also by political candidates and figures themselves who encourage peaceful democratic processes for their supporters to express their opinions and concerns. This can be provided by transparent competitive elections, showing active consideration of pleas to change laws regarding campaign funding, and providing organized public forums for discussion. These actions would show the Malagasy people that the government is serving the people by listening and then following through to solve the problems raised.
Violent politics are not new to Madagascar, nor are recounts to either Ravalomanana or Rajoelina. When Ravalomanana ran for president in 2001, his opponent, former president Ratsiraka, claimed that the government rigged the elections, but after a recount the Constitutional court declared Ravalomanana president. Rajoelina took over from Ravalomanana in 2009, after winning public support through anti-Ravalomanana government rhetoric when his TV company was shut down by the government. With the support of the military and high court, Rajoelina successfully declared himself leader of the Malagasy government and armed forces. These sort of dramatic and radical changes of power have all been accompanied by protests and demonstrations because of the violent and tense nature of current politics in Madagascar.
Malagasy political leaders and public officials need to actively encourage and pursue peaceful and democratic transitions of power in the government. While Rajoelina’s electoral win was accompanied by violent protests, the peaceful taking of office ceremony shows that peaceful political events are possible for Madagascar. Officials need to take into account what was done to encourage peace and discourage violence surrounding the ceremony and make strides to continue with these methods among others throughout Rajoelina’s term and especially surrounding big political events and with the next change of office. Candidates themselves need to be held responsible for how they can encourage peaceful pursuit of their values and perceived injustices in the government.