Freedom in the World 2011

Capital: Antananarivo

Population: 19,464,000

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

Ratings Change

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Madagascar received a downward trend arrow due to de facto president Andry Rajoelina’s attempt to unilaterally impose an electoral process in violation of internationally mediated agreements with the main opposition parties.


In August 2010, de facto president AndryRajoelina announced that a presidential election would be held in May 2011. Opposition parties refused to endorse his electoral calendar, citing a previous, internationally negotiated demand for a coalition government that would oversee a consensus-based electoral process. The opposition boycotted a constitutional referendum in November that approved changes allowing Rajoelina to seek the presidency. Meanwhile, former president Marc Ravalomanana in August was sentenced in absentia to life at hard labor for ordering the killing of at least 30 opposition protesters in February 2009.


After 70 years of French colonial rule and episodes of severe repression, Madagascar gained independence in 1960. A member of the leftist military junta that seized power in 1972, 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. Following Zafy’s impeachment by the National Assembly 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 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 party, I Love Madagascar (TIM), won a large majority in the 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 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 the September parliamentary elections. Local elections in December largely confirmed TIM’s dominance, though 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. The political crisis deepened in early 2009, with some army officers announcing their support for the opposition. In March, Ravalomanana handed power to the military, which quickly transferred it to Rajoelina.

Rajoelina proceeded to suspend the parliament, suppress opposition protests, and limit press freedom. These actions, combined with his unconstitutional accession to power and erratic leadership, resulted in prolonged political uncertainty. In August 2009, the various political factions backing Rajoelina reached a tentative power-sharing deal—know as the Maputo Declaration—with former presidents Ravalomanana, Zafy, and Ratsiraka. However, Rajoelina subsequently refused to agree to the formation of a transitional coalition government of national unity as called for in the pact.

In August 2010, Rajoelina announced that he was abandoning the agreement. Instead, he concluded an accord with 99 minor parties, drawing up an election calendar and setting the presidential election for May 2011. While Rajoelina stated that he would not stand for the presidency, the main opposition parties refused to endorse his plan, citing the Maputo Declaration’s call for a coalition government to oversee the electoral process. The political climate became further polarized after Ravalomanana was sentenced in absentia in August to life at hard labor for ordering the killing of at least 30 opposition protesters in February 2009.A national conference sponsored by Rajoelina that was designed to provide an internal solution to the crisis took place in September 2010.It was boycotted by major opposition leaders and did not have the support of the international community. Rajoelina appointeda transitional parliament in October, with some members of the opposition included.A referendum held in November, boycotted by the opposition, approved constitutional changes sought by Rajoelina, including a lowering of the age requirement for presidential candidates.

While Madagascar experienced overall economic growth between 2003 and 2008, due in part to large mining projects, the 2009 coup and ensuing political crisis seriously damaged the economy. Following Rajoelina’s takeover, the international community levied severe sanctions on the country, but continued to provide humanitarian aid. In March 2010, the African Union imposed targeted sanctions on Rajoelina and more than a hundred of his political and military associates, including travel bans and the freezing of assets. In June, the European Union suspended development assistance until a broad-based political agreement could be negotiated.

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. The 2007 constitutional referendum had 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. Rajoelina’s unilateral constitutional referendum in November 2010 lowered the minimum age for the president from 40 to 35; Rajoelina would be 36 by the time of the presidential election scheduled for May 2011. The elected bicameral parliament was suspended in March 2009. The transitional parliament appointed by Rajoelina in October 2010 consists of a 256-seat lower house and a 90-seat upper chamber.
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 in 2009, ousted president Marc Ravalomanana’s TIM party had an overwhelming majority in both houses. Since Rajoelina’s accession to power, opposition political activity has been circumscribed through arbitrary and periodic 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, Ravalomanana fled to South Africa, where he remained at the end of 2010. While some members of the opposition participated in the transitional parliament, their parties officially rejected Rajoelina’s electoral plan. Continuing unrest within the military led to an unsuccessful coup attempt in November 2010, triggered by the constitutional referendum.
Corruption remains a major concern in Madagascar.In spite of an April 2010 decree that prohibited the logging, transport, trading, and export of precious woods, the illegal trade continued. Several large caches of illegally harvested rosewood were confiscated by authorities during the year, illustrating the magnitude of the problem. Madagascar was ranked 123 out of 178 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2010 Corruption Perceptions Index.
The constitution officially 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, and the media remain highly polarized and partisan. 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. According to the International Telecommunication Union, less than 1 percent of the population had access to the internet as of July 2010, largely due to inadequate infrastructure.
The 2009 political crisis began in December 2008, when Ravalomanana ordered the closure of a private television station run by Rajoelina after it aired an interview with former president Didier Ratsiraka without official permission. 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 2009.The independent outlets that remain in operation practice varying levels of self-censorship. The government remains highly suspicious of and at times hostile to the independent press. For example, 10 employees of the independent Radio Fahazavana were arrested in 2010 on charges of inciting revolt. They were released after four months in jail, but on the same day the authorities banned broadcasts by another independent radio station.
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. In 2010, Rajoelina’s government continued to sharply restrict 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, have 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 subsequent judicial decisions 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. Customary-law courts in rural areas continue to lack due process guarantees and regularly issue summary and severe punishments. In the demonstrations and chaos surrounding the change in government in 2009, security forces often engaged in abusive behavior with impunity.
A political cleavage has traditionally existed between the coastal côtier 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 côtier. Ethnicity, caste, and regional solidarity are often 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. Domestic violence remains common.