Arrests Made Over Assassination Attempt On The President: A Sign Of Madagascar’s Political Discontent

In a time of crisis in the Indian Ocean nation of Madagascar, a plot has been uncovered to assassinate President Andry Rajoelina. This has led to the arrest of 21 individuals in the past week, including five military generals, two high ranking police captains, and five non-commissioned officers. This comes as the most recent development in what has been called a months-long investigation by Malagasy officials, with 6 people initially being taken into custody in July for plotting to eliminate a number of government leaders, including the president. In June, there was another foiled assassination plot, this time aiming to kill the head of the Madagascar police force, the gendarmerie, but it is unknown whether the suspects are connected to the plot to kill the president.

Berthine Razafiarivony, a prosecutor on the Antananarivo Court of Appeal, speaking about the recent plot to assassinate the president, claims that “the physical evidence… is tangible and made it possible to identify the main instigators” of the plot, giving police enough information to finally make the arrests. Physical items involved in the plot were also seized, such as two cars, a shotgun, and 209,300 euros (~$250,000). The suspects will be questioned further as police officials continue to uncover details about the assassination attempt. The exact motives of the suspects remains unclear, but one thing appears certain: the plot aimed to destabilize the government during a time of hardship and suffering for many Madagascans.

Madagascar has a consistently difficult political history, marked by corruption, violent protests, military coups, and election fraud, with the current assassination plot only being the most recent marker of political unrest on the island nation. Even though President Rajoelina won the 2018 elections and was inaugurated legitimately as president in 2019, there were many who stood behind his challenger and ex-president Marc Ravalomanana, who had declared the election fraudulent only to have his charges rejected. President Rajoelina and Ravalomanana have been long-time rivals since Rajoelina proclaimed himself the opposition leader in 2008, challenging Ravalomanana’s presidency with the support of the military. Their rivalry led to bouts of violence as protests turned extreme with dozens killed. In the end, Rajoelina became the transitional president and marked the beginning of Madagascar’s Fourth Republic, not without international opposition and controversy. He remained the chief executive until the 2013 elections. Hery Rajaonarimampianina, a candidate endorsed by Rajoelina, then stepped into the presidency and became highly unpopular due to the fact that despite receiving economic aid, the general well-being of the Malagasy people did not improve. When the 2018 elections came about, Rajaonarimampianina was already being denounced for attempting to bar Ravalomanana from being a presidential candidate, leading to another face-off between the two adversaries Rajoelina and Ravalomanana, who had the highest percentage of the votes. Even after going into exile and being criminally charged for involvement in murder related to the protests in 2008, Ravalomanana has retained a significant following.

With the 2018 election results being contested, it is clear that the tension between the two political leaders has not disappeared. It is possible that there is a connection between the recent assassination plot and resentment that remains from the past, something that has not been properly mitigated to ensure peace. But what remains true is that the welfare of the Malagasy people has not been made a priority. According to the Borgen Project, extreme poverty is the reality for about 75% of the population of Madagascar. The effects of the Covid-19 pandemic and the severe famine hitting southern regions due to drought have only added to the hardship. The quality of life of the Malagasy people isn’t improving, despite Rajoelina’s promises as a presidential candidate, which is easily enough to cause people to resort to extremes.

With a duel that has lasted more than a decade, both President Rajoelina and Ravalomanana have been and remain hugely influential political figures in the country. With the history and strife that their competition has caused for Malagasy citizens, the next presidential elections should have neither one of them on the ballot, and there should be new candidates in order to provide a fresh start. Madagascar only allows two presidential terms per individual, and therefore President Rajoelina would not be able to run for election again. As seen in the past, there have been attempts to change constitutional amendments, but it is essential for the future of Madagascar that instead both of the two leaders and their rivalry are left behind. If voters can choose between new candidates that can properly focus on important issues, such as the economy and improving the distribution of food and aid, instead of power struggles, then the well-being of the majority of the population can substantially improve. Perhaps then there would be more contentment with the work that the leadership are doing, and there would not be attempts to cause chaos in the government by assassinating important political figures.

Another potential solution would be to increase political efficacy by allowing the Malagasy people more of a voice. A little over half of Madagascans voted in the last presidential election, clearly not fully representing the views of the population. This could have been because of the candidates that were running, or a more general trend, but irrespective of the cause of this, if Madagascans were convinced that their leader could actually make changes in their favor, there would likely be a higher voter turnout. The exact motives of the people suspected of plotting to assassinate President Rajoelina are not yet known, but it is clear that this attempted coup was a sign of discontent, especially given that the suspects were a part of the military and police force. If the deeper issues are addressed about why they would want to assassinate their president and government leaders, then the root cause of why there is continual unrest and violence in Madagascar’s politics could be eliminated.

Either way, in the next election, hopefully Madagascar can turn a new page and leave the destructive rivalry between Rajoelina and Ravalaomanana behind. If there could be more programs that educate voters about how voting can bring about change in their lives, there could be a greater turnout at the polls. In the meantime, the suspects in the assassination plot should be dealt with the justice that they deserve, for it is not a light offense to be involved a plan to kill the president. With this approach, it can only be hoped that there will be answers for the sake of Madagascar and its future.

Sabina Marty


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