Many among the 11 million registered voters appeared to heed a call by a collective of 10 candidates to stay away from voting booths. during the first round of the presidential election in Madagascar
The country's election management body (Céni) unveiled the provisional participation rate late Thursday.
"So across the 250 polling stations, there are one hundred thirty one thousand five hundred twenty one people registered and fifty one thousand four hundred twenty two people voted, so that’s a participation rate of 39%."
The Céni is expected to proclaim the “provisional consolidated results” between by Nov. 25.
It will then be up to the country’s High Constitutional Court to proclaim the official results of the election at the beginning of December.
A runoff has been scheduled for Dec. 20 if none of the candidates attain more than 50 percent from Thursday’s vote.
Speaking on behalf of 10 of 12 opposition candidates, Hajo Andrianainarivelo praised Thursday (Nov. 16) what he called voters' maturity.
He cited observers' reports which put turnout at around 20 percent.
"We, the candidates' collective, reiterate today that the elections failed to meet the required democratic standards, this was proven by the provisional turnout results given by observers, which are the lowest in Madagascar's electoral history," the candidate said.
"This proves that the Malagasy people have shown their political maturity by staying at home and heeding the call of the collective and all the nation's vital actors not to endorse an election that was stolen ..."
Incumbent president Andry Rajoelina has voiced confidence in being re-elected, brushing off weeks of protests that have agitated the Indian Ocean Island nation.
Civil society groups including unions, students, religious leaders had called for a postponement of the election.
The situation was calm in the capital, Antananarivo, where authorities imposed a night-time curfew on the eve of the election after the torching of some polling stations late Tuesday (Nov. 15).
But tension was palpable at some polling stations where some people refused to talk to journalists. At one polling station, people warned each other against making comments after being approached by an Associated Press journalist.
Andry Rajoelina is seeking reelection for a second term and is riding on a record of being the “Builder President” for infrastructure projects that some say have turned into white elephants.
A violent crackdown on protests by security forces ahead of the election has tainted his democratic credentials, while a struggling economy, lack of social services and widespread poverty weigh down his popularity.
“Madagascar needs democratic maturity. The only democratic way to get into power today, and I am fighting for it, is elections,” said Rajoelina after casting his ballot in Ambatobe, a rich district of the capital.
Rajoelina first took power in 2009 and served as president in a transitional government until 2014 after the previous leader, Marc Ravalomanana, was removed in a military-led coup. He made a return in 2018 when he beat Ravalomanana in a runoff.
Ravalomanana and Rajaonarimampianina, both former presidents, are among those boycotting the election.
The biggest challenge to Rajoelina, a 49-year-old former DJ, comes from a former ally-turned-foe, Siteny Randrianasoloniaiko, a wealthy 51-year-old businessman who is also the deputy for Tuléar city under Rajoelina’s IRD party in the island’s far south.
Randrianasoloniaiko distanced himself from Rajoelina ahead of the election, raising concerns about the fairness of the election after casting his vote.
“My observer delegates, those from my party, were not allowed to enter the polling stations, whether in Antananarivo, or on the coasts,” he said.
In its end of election statement, the United Sates of America's embassy to Madagascar alleged that "in many locations. [it i.e U.S. Embassy] and other observers [had] reported some polling station irregularities, including by political party representatives."
The emabssy added that "The U.S., other like-minded Embassies, international organizations, and international observers [would] meet to review and verify information over the coming days and weeks regarding the conduct of elections during voting, counting, and transport of ballots."
A third candidate is Sendrison Daniela Raderanirina, a relatively unknown 62-year-old who has lived mainly in France to pursue a career in information technology.
Many in Madagascar hoped this election would break with a past of disputed votes, coups and political instability that have characterized the country since it gained independence from France in 1960.
But opposition figures, civil society and many ordinary people believe the election lacks credibility.
Opposition figures boycotting the election say Rajoelina should have been stripped of his Malagasy nationality and disqualified because he obtained French citizenship in 2014. Rajoelina said he took up dual citizenship to secure his children’s education in former colonizer France. The country’s highest court ruled in his favor.
They also allege that the national electoral commission and judiciary lack independence.
Madagascar’s economy is anchored in agriculture and tourism. According to the World Bank the country had one of the world's highest poverty rate. Using the national poverty line, 75% of the 30 million Malagasy lived in 2022 in poverty.