SADC should take a proactive stance on elections in Madagascar

Photo © Sam Whitfield

After successive postponements and delays since a coup d’état in 2009, 33 candidates contested the presidential elections in Madagascar on 25 October 2013. Counting of the votes has not been completed and results are trickling in, with both the Malagasy and the international community waiting for a result that could potentially restore democratic governance in that archipelago.

Out of the 20,001 polling stations throughout the country, the Independent National Electoral Commission of the Transition has validated 18,000 votes, representing 80% of the overall total. A Special Electoral Court will declare the definitive outcome 15 days after the publication of the results by the electoral authority.

A clear winner will not emerge out of this poll, and all indications are that a second round is likely to take place on 20 December 2013, alongside parliamentary elections. The Southern African Development Community’s Electoral Observer Mission has declared the presidential elections free, credible and fair. Moreover, the African Union, the European Union Observer Mission and the International Organisation of La Francophonie issued statements on 27 October lauding the elections as free, fair and credible.

However, it should be emphasised that Madagascar is not yet out of the woods and the potential for political instability still exists. Granted, Madagascar is not in a state of war or chronic political insecurity. But the political situation demands that SADC monitor developments in that country in a proactive manner.

Continued SADC leadership of necessity

As an island state, instability in that country does not have immediate regional ramifications. But the country is going through a difficult transition, whose first step is the presidential elections. Even if SADC forced the withdrawal from the presidential race of key protagonists, including Andry Rajoelina, Didier Ratsiraka, Marc Ravolomana, and the wife of the latter, Lalao Ravalomana, there are no guarantees that the loser will accept the Special Court’s final outcome.

The second round is more likely to be a contest between two political novices, Robinson Jean Louis sponsored by the Marc Ravolomana camp and Hery Rajaonarimampianina whose candidacy is supported by Andry Rajoelina. Presidential elections by proxy candidates can hardly guarantee the long-term prospects of a fragile and aid-dependent economy where 9 out 10 inhabitants live on less than $2 per day.

Therefore, the challenges in Madagascar are as much economic as they are political, and both will determine whether the country can bottom out of paralysis.

As the body that sponsored the suspension of Madagascar from its processes, the role of SADC as lead mediator in the transition toward democratic governance is crucial. In order to succeed in what ought to be the last steps toward constitutional order in Madagascar, the regional body should insist on the support of the international community, including the European Union, which imposed economic sanctions on the country and a travel ban on key individuals in government.

Proactive crisis management and prevention

Going forward, the SADC Organ on Politics, Defence and Security whose mandate is to promote peace and security in the region will remain pivotal. A few steps are needed to ensure a smooth transition to democracy.

First, the current chairman of the Troika, President Hifikepunye Pohamba of Namibia, should proactively prioritise the political situation in that country by reinforcing and accelerating dialogue with the signatories to the Roadmap that led to the current elections.

Second, with difficult legislative elections and a second round for the presidential elections slated for 20 December 2013, both the Troika and the chairperson of the SADC Summit, President Joyce Banda, should impress on the Independent National Electoral Commission of the Transition the necessity of respecting the Malagasy Electoral Code and all other relevant protocols that could enhance peace in that country.

Third, the chairperson of the Troika should through the offices of the SADC Mediator on Madagascar, former President Joaquim Chissano, insist on the full implementation of the SADC, AU and the International Contact Group on Madagascar (ICG-M) with respect to the holding of the presidential elections. In light of the second presidential round, this is particularly crucial.

Fourth, after the final results for the first round are known, SADC should call for another meeting of the ICG-M to review progress in that country and craft a way forward in order to remove potential obstacles that may derail the 20 December 2013 elections.

To conclude, Madagascar is at a major turning point. The presidential elections of 25 October 2013 are cause for optimism. However, the positive evolution that the international community has witnessed in that country demands careful coordination and proactive leadership within the framework of the ICG-M.

SADC and the Chair of the Troika cannot afford to drop the ball at a time when the region can effectively show through this example that its crisis management capabilities can be effective when pursued with consistency, fairness and rigour.