FAST Update Madagascar: Trends in conflict and cooperation Apr - May 2007



While Madagascar continues to remain relatively calm, the past couple months have seen an increase in conflict driven by non-government actors and a corresponding drop in country stability not seen since early 2006. The rise in conflict in 2005 and 2006 was tied to opposition activity and inflation, particularly in the rice and oil sectors (see Madagascar Update 2=5F2005). Today the primary drivers are tied to political posturing of primarily nongovernment actors, the government clamp-down on opposition corruption, and energy. Political issues are closely tied to the presidential elections of 3 December 2006 and the constitutional referendum of 4 April 2007. The December elections were subject to both domestic and international monitors and came off without any significant events. Cries of voter fraud did not resonate with the monitors or the population. The elections handed President Marc Ravalomanana a relatively easy victory. As the improving trend in Domestic Government Events indicates, efforts to neutralize potential sources of instability were successful and all that remained was a claim by the Comité National pour l'Observation des Elections (CNOE), the Catholic Church, and others that voter registry remained an obstacle to unfettered participation. In the aftermath of the elections, opposition voices were significantly weakened. President Ravalomanana led support for the constitutional revisions and there was poor organization to the "no" camp. The constitutional revisions passed 73.29 percent to 26.71 percent with a low (for Madagascar) 42 percent turnout rate, which was still higher than the turnout for the adaptation of the current constitution (see Madagascar Update 1=5F2007). On 11 April, 28 opposition leaders, including Roland Ratsiraka and former National Assembly President Jean Lahiniriko, contested the referendum. On 16 April 2007, the opposition presidential candidate and Toamasina mayor, Roland Ratsiraka, was accused of bribery by the Court of Justice and subsequently arrested then jailed. Opposition leaders accused the administration of using severe courts against challengers while the administration attests to the independence of the judiciary and the significance of the charges. On 18 April, Ratsiraka's supporters started demonstrating in support of him in Toamasina. Seven people were arrested for pillaging shops on 21 April and by 23 April authorities refused to allow the opposition to demonstrate in favor of Ratsiraka. This downward trend has reinvigorated ethnic or, more accurately, pseudo-ethnic tensions in both Toamasina and the capital, Antananarivo (see FAST Quarterly Update 3=5F2004). On 19 April, Ratsiraka supporters in Toamasina threatened to push ethnic Merinas back to their home region of Antananarivo. In April and May the opposition held government demonstrations in the cities of Sambava, Mahajanga and Tulear as well, resulting in the arrest of some fifty opposition members in Tulear (home region of Jean Lahiniriko). Also opposition members threatened several Merina families in the city of Tulear on 1 May. On 24 May, leaflets by anonymous authors were distributed demanding those of coastal ethnicities leave Antananarivo. The opposition accused the president's Tiako i Madagasikara (TIM) party of involvement in the leaflets while the TIM accused the opposition of creating the pamphlets as a form of ethnic manipulation. Meanwhile, demonstrations concerning the energy crisis in Madagascar have taken political, industrial and socio-economic forms. In Antsiranana, Mahajanga, and Tulear students took to the streets to protest electricity shortages. Opposition support for student protests and the arrests of students for encouraging ethnically-based riots in Tulear on 17 May further blurred the division of the energy and opposition issues.