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Opposition Boycott and Voter Skepticism Cast Shadow on Madagascar's Presidential Election

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Themba Hadebe/Copyright 2018 The AP. All rights reserved.


As Madagascar prepares for its presidential election, six influential opposition figures, including two former presidents, have declared their refusal to participate in the upcoming polls. In a joint statement, these opposition leaders announced their decision to boycott the election and called on the Malagasy people to abstain from voting. The move adds further complexity to an already tumultuous political landscape in the island nation.

The political tensions in Madagascar have been escalating for months, marked by intense confrontations between the opposition and the incumbent president, Andry Rajoelina, who is seeking re-election at the age of 49. The opposition, comprising ten candidates, has formed a collective, denouncing what they claim is a plot to secure a second term for Rajoelina. In response, they have opted to abstain from campaigning.

Antananarivo, the capital, has witnessed a surge in opposition protests since early October. However, these gatherings, often met with tear gas dispersals by law enforcement, have seen limited participation, with only a few hundred supporters typically in attendance.

The decision to boycott the election has been reinforced by statements from two former presidents, Hery Rajaonarimampianina and Marc Ravalomanana. Both have publicly declared their non-participation in the polls and have taken the additional step of encouraging Malagasy citizens to refrain from voting.

The roots of the political crisis lie in the revelation in June of Rajoelina's dual nationality—Malagasy and French. According to the opposition, this revelation renders the incumbent president ineligible to govern or stand for election, as he allegedly lost his Malagasy nationality by acquiring French citizenship in 2014.

Former President Rajaonarimampianina, 65, stated unequivocally, "I will not run in the election, it's very clear." Ravalomanana, 73, echoed this sentiment, asserting, "We will call on people not to vote" on the scheduled election day.

The opposition has taken a unified stance, describing the current situation as "deleterious" and asserting that now is not the appropriate time for elections. They believe that the electoral process has been marred by irregularities, and they label the rejection of their appeals by the High Constitutional Court as an "institutional coup."

Efforts to mediate the dispute have so far proven fruitless, with the President of the National Assembly leading the attempts. The situation led to the postponement of the election from its original date of November 9, following an injury to a candidate during a protest. The High Constitutional Court cited the need for an "equality of chances for candidates."

Rajoelina's camp has vehemently rejected calls for the suspension of the electoral process, considering such a move as "fanciful." Despite concerns raised by the international community, particularly from the United States and the European Union, Rajoelina held his final campaign rally in Antananarivo, drawing a large and fervent crowd.

However, skepticism and disillusionment among the electorate are evident. Opposition candidate Roland Ratsiraka, 57, criticized the president's campaign practices, alleging dubious payments to rally participants. Reports of irregularities, including discouraging voter registration, have surfaced, indicating a potential challenge to the credibility of the election.

As the presidential race in Madagascar faces increasing uncertainty, with opposition figures withdrawing and citizens expressing doubt about the integrity of the process, the nation stands on the brink of a crucial electoral moment that could have far-reaching consequences for its political future.

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