Last Updated: Friday, 21 November 2014, 13:47 GMT

Freedom in the World 2010 - Madagascar

Publisher Freedom House
Publication Date 3 May 2010
Cite as Freedom House, Freedom in the World 2010 - Madagascar, 3 May 2010, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4c0ceae428.html [accessed 23 November 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Capital: Antananarivo
Population: 18,900,000

Political Rights Score: 6 *
Civil Liberties Score: 4 *
Status: Partly Free

Ratings Change

Madagascar's political rights rating declined from 4 to 6 and its civil liberties rating from 3 to 4 due to President Andry Rajoelina's unconstitutional rise to power, the suspension of the parliament, the repression of opposition protests, and limitations on press freedom, including the closure of opposition media outlets.

Overview

The closure of an opposition media outlet at the end of 2008 touched off months of civil and political unrest in which dozens of demonstrators were killed. Facing intense pressure from the opposition and elements of the military, President Marc Ravalomanana resigned in March 2009 and was replaced by Andry Rajoelina, an opposition leader and mayor of Antananarivo. Rajoelina's unconstitutional accession to power, suspension of the parliament, and erratic leadership resulted in continued political uncertainty. In August, the various political factions reached a tentative power-sharing accord, but repeated attempts to form a transitional coalition government failed, and Rajoelina abandoned the talks in December.


After 70 years of French colonial rule and episodes of severe repression, Madagascar gained independence in 1960. A leftist military junta seized power in 1972. A member of the junta, Admiral Didier Ratsiraka, emerged as leader in 1975 and retained power until his increasingly authoritarian regime bowed to social unrest and nonviolent mass demonstrations in 1991.

Under a new constitution, opposition leader Albert Zafy won the 1992 presidential election. However, he failed to win reelection after being impeached by the Supreme Court in 1996. Ratsiraka won that year's presidential runoff election, which was deemed generally legitimate by international and domestic observers.

A decentralization plan was narrowly approved in a 1998 referendum amid a boycott by the country's increasingly fractious opposition. In the December 2001 presidential election, opposition candidate and Antananarivo mayor Marc Ravalomanana claimed that he had been denied an outright victory in the first round by polling irregularities. He declared himself president in February 2002, having refused to take part in a postponed runoff against the incumbent. After considerable violence between his and Ratsiraka's supporters, the High Constitutional Court announced that Ravalomanana had indeed won the election in the first round. Ratsiraka refused to acknowledge the result. Sporadic clashes continued until July 2002, when Ratsiraka left the country and the last of his forces surrendered. The extended crisis seriously damaged the Malagasy economy.

Ravalomanana's I Love Madagascar (TIM) party won a large majority in the December 2002 parliamentary elections. Observers from the European Union said the conduct of the polls was "generally positive." Political tensions increased in the run-up to the December 2006 presidential election, in which Ravalomanana secured a second term. While most observers agreed that the vote reflected the will of the people, the campaign was marred by opposition claims of a biased administration and electoral irregularities.

A constitutional referendum in April 2007 increased presidential powers, and Ravalomanana's authority was bolstered again in September parliamentary elections, as his TIM party won 106 of the 127 seats in the National Assembly. Local elections in December 2007 largely confirmed TIM's dominance, but Andry Rajoelina, a young and charismatic opposition candidate, won the mayoral race in the capital.

The closure of an opposition television station in December 2008 triggered months of violent protests in Antananarivo. Well over 100 people were killed as protesters destroyed property and marched on government sites, and police responded with gunfire. Rajoelina called on Ravalomanana to resign, and declared himself president. As the political crisis deepened in March, with some army officers announcing their support for the opposition, Ravalomanana handed power to the military, which immediately transferred it to Rajoelina.

Now calling himself president of a "High Transitional Authority," Rajoelina suspended the parliament and established administrative bodies to govern the island. The new regime was largely shunned by the international community. In August, internationally mediated negotiations resulted in a tentative power-sharing agreement that would lead to elections in late 2010. Laborious talks on the composition of a coalition government ensued, and in October the parties reached an initial accord under which Rajoelina would remain as the transitional president and supporters of Ravalomanana and Ratsiraka would occupy other senior positions. Ravalomanana, however, objected to Rajoelina's continued status as president and withheld support. Another arrangement approved by the rivals in November also collapsed, and in December Rajoelina declared that he was withdrawing from the power-sharing effort and named a new prime minister unilaterally.

Until 2009, Madagascar had experienced overall economic growth for seven years, due in part to large mining projects, but the World Bank estimates that annual per capita income remains around $300. Beginning in December 2008, the country's donor partners suspended aid disbursements, citing concerns about a lack of transparency in budget processes and possible conflicts of interest involving Ravalomanana's business assets. The 2009 political crisis resulted in continued suspension of foreign aid and significant economic dislocation.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties

Madagascar is not an electoral democracy. The undemocratic and unconstitutional manner in which Andry Rajoelina assumed the presidency in March 2009 demonstrated that the political culture has so far failed to incorporate a rules-based system and the practice of peaceful democratic succession.

According to the constitution, the president is directly elected for up to two five-year terms. The president is also legally required to be at least 40 years old; Rajoelina was 34 when he proclaimed himself president. The 2007 constitutional referendum continued a trend of steadily increasing presidential power. Among other provisions, it allowed the president to rule by decree during a state of emergency, and abolished autonomous provinces.

The parliament remained dormant at the end of 2009 after Rajoelina suspended it in March. The National Assembly, the bicameral legislature's lower chamber, has 127 members directly elected to four-year terms. The upper chamber, the Senate, has 33 members who serve four-year terms. Two-thirds of the senators are chosen by provincial lawmakers, and the rest are appointed by the president. The president has the power to appoint or dismiss the prime minister, who may come from a party that has a minority of seats in the National Assembly.

Approximately 150 parties are registered, although only a few have a national presence. Parties tend to suffer from internal divisions, shifting alliances, and a lack of resources and clear ideology. Prior to the suspension of the parliament, ousted president Marc Ravalomanana's TIM party had an overwhelming majority in both houses. Since Rajoelina's accession to power, opposition political activity in Madagascar has been circumscribed through bans on meetings and protests, killings of opposition supporters, and unsubstantiated government allegations of opposition party involvement in a series of explosions in Antananarivo in mid-2009. Following his ouster in March, Ravalomanana fled abroad and remained in South Africa at year's end.

Many observers have expressed concerns about the extent of and trends in corruption in Madagascar. According to the Heritage Foundation's 2010 Index of Economic Freedom, Madagascar ranks well below average on corruption and "complicated administrative procedures introduce delays and uncertainties and multiply the opportunities for corruption." It was ranked 99 out of 180 countries surveyed in Transparency International's 2009 Corruption Perceptions Index.

The constitution provides for freedom of the press. A 1990 law on press freedom was followed by the introduction of privately owned FM radio stations and more critical political reporting by the print media. However, subsequent governments have at times curbed press freedom in practice. The media are highly polarized and partisan, and there are dozens of licensed television, radio, and print outlets. Because of the low literacy rate, the print media are mostly aimed at the French-speaking urban elite. Internet use, although not widespread, is becoming more popular. According to the International Telecommunications Union, there were approximately 315,000 internet users, or 1.5 per cent of the population, as of June 2009.

The 2009 political crisis began when Ravalomanana ordered the closure of a private television station run by Rajoelina in December 2008 after it aired an interview with former president Didier Ratsiraka without official permission. One journalist was killed by gunfire from security forces during opposition protests in February, and several were beaten or harassed by the authorities or partisan thugs both before and after the change in power. Media outlets associated with each side were raided by security forces or ransacked by armed civilians during the turmoil, and a Ravalomanana-owned radio station was shut down by the authorities in April. The independent outlets that remain in operation increasingly practice self-censorship.

The Malagasy people have traditionally enjoyed religious freedom. The law strongly encourages, but does not require, religious organizations to register with the Ministry of Interior. There are no limitations on academic freedom.

Freedom of association is generally respected, and hundreds of nongovernmental organizations, including legal and human rights groups, are active. Freedom of assembly was severely affected by the unrest in early 2009, as protests degenerated into riots and looting, and security forces opened fire on demonstrators. After the change in power, Rajoelina's government sharply restricted opposition protests.

Workers' rights to join unions and strike are largely respected. The Ravalomanana administration endured a series of demonstrations and work stoppages, mainly over the high rate of inflation; strikes, often politically motivated, continued under the Rajoelina regime. Some of the country's labor organizations are affiliated with political groups. More than 80 percent of workers are engaged in agriculture, fishing, and forestry at a subsistence level.

The judiciary remains susceptible to corruption and executive influence. Its acquiescence in the face of Rajoelina's unconstitutional rise to power highlighted its weakness as an institution, and judicial decisions during the year were tainted by frequent intimidation. A lack of training, resources, and personnel hampers judicial effectiveness, and case backlogs are prodigious. Most of the approximately 20,000 people held in the country's prisons are pretrial detainees and suffer from extremely harsh and sometimes life-threatening conditions. In many rural areas, customary-law courts that lack due process often issue summary and severe punishments, and illegal activities, such as flogging, frequently occur. In the demonstrations and chaos surrounding the change in government, security forces often acted with impunity.

A political cleavage has traditionally existed between the coastal cotier and the highland merina peoples, of continental African and Southeast Asian origins, respectively. Due to past military conquest and long-standing political dominance, the status of the merina tends to be higher than that of the cotier. Ethnicity, caste, and regional solidarity often are factors that lead to discrimination.

Approximately 45 percent of the workforce is female. Malagasy women hold significantly more government and managerial positions than women in continental African countries. However, they still face societal discrimination and enjoy fewer opportunities than men for higher education and employment.


*Countries are ranked on a scale of 1-7, with 1 representing the highest level of freedom and 7 representing the lowest level of freedom.

Copyright notice: © Freedom House, Inc. · All Rights Reserved

Search Refworld

Countries