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Third Republic, 1993-2010

The Third Republic received its first expression of popular support and legitimacy on August 19, 1992, when the constitutional framework constructed by the National Conference was approved by more than 75 percent of those voting in a popular referendum (the constitution took effect on September 12). On this date, the people overwhelmingly approved a new constitution consisting of 149 articles that provided for the separation of powers among the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government; the creation of a multiparty political system; and the protection of individual human rights and freedom of speech.

The power of the executive branch was divided between a president who was elected by universal suffrage and a prime minister from the parliament who was nominated by his/her peers but who must be approved by the president. If the nominee for prime minister did not achieve an absolute majority of support within the parliament, the president may choose a candidate from the parliament who would serve for one year. As captured in the Malagasy concept ray aman-dreny (father and mother of the nation), enshrined in Article 44 of the constitution, the president serves as the symbol of national unity. The president also was the recognized leader of foreign policy and constitutes by far the single most powerful political person within the country. All presidential decrees must be countersigned, however, and the president was bound by the constitutional reality that the prime minister was responsible for the functioning of the government.

The president was elected for a five-year period and was limited to two terms in office. In the event that no candidate wins a simple majority of the popular vote, a run-off election was held between the two leading candidates within a period of two months. The most important unwritten law regarding the executive branch revolves around the cotter/ central highlands distinction. If a cotier was elected president, it was understood that a Merina would fill the position of prime minister, and vice versa. In the case of the first national elections held under the Third Republic, for example, the elected president Zafy who was a cotier, chose a prime minister Francisque Ravony from the ranks of the Merina (although several of the Merina elite were not entirely happy with the choice because Ravony was only half Merina).

The constitution provided for a bicameral parliament composed of a Senate and a National Assembly (Assembled Nationale). The Senate represented territorial groups and served as the consultative chamber on social and economic issues. Two-thirds of its members were chosen by an Electoral College, and the remaining one-third were chosen by the president. The National Assembly consisted of 138 deputies elected by universal suffrage using a proportional representation list-system. Both senators and deputies served for four years. The June 16, 1993, elections resulted in about half the deputies elected being members of the Forces Vives. The remainder belonged to six parties, of which the largest had fifteen deputies and the smallest nine deputies. The parliament as a whole operated with a variety of classic parliamentary measures, such as a vote of no confidence, that enabled it to serve as a check on the power of the executive.

A new system of local governance under the constitution was known as the Decentralized Territorial Authorities (Collectivites Territoriales Decentralisees). According to the decentralization law adopted by the National Assembly in March 1994, twenty-eight regions (faritra), more than 100 departments (ftleovana), and fewer than 1,000 communes (faribohitra) have been created. Certain urban communes, such as the cities of Antananarivo, Nosy-Be, and Sainte Marie, would function as departments. Envisioned as regional vehicles for popular input in which members were elected by universal suffrage, these authorities have yet to be implemented; their exact role in the policy-making process remains ill-defined, but it was contemplated that the national government would handle such areas as foreign affairs, defense, public security, justice, currency, and broad economic planning and policy, leaving economic implementation to the decentralized bodies. However, the Zafy regime was initially confident that, once functioning, these regional boards would take the political initiative away from the so-called federalist opposition, which has been seeking to shift power away from the central government to the regions.

A strong, independent judiciary was also enshrined in the 1992 constitution. An eleven-member Supreme Court served as the highest arbiter of the laws of the land. Otherjudicial bodies include the Administrative and Financial Constitutional Court, the Appeals Courts, tribunals, and the High Court ofJustice. The creation of this complex system indicated the desire of the constitutional framers for a society built upon the rule of law. Indeed, the constitution explicitly outlined the fundamental rights of individual citizens and groups (most notably freedom of speech) and guaranteed the existence of an independent press free from government control or censorship.

The creation of a truly free and fair multiparty system was the centerpiece of the new constitutional order. In sharp contrast to the Ratsiraka era, when political parties could only exist under the ideological umbrella of the FNDR, democratization of the political system led to the proliferation of political parties of all ideological stripes. In the first legislative elections held under the Third Republic in 1993, for example, more than 120 political parties fielded at least 4,000 candidates for a total of 138 legislative seats. Despite constitutional guarantees concerning the rights of citizens to form political parties without fear of government retribution, parties that called for ethnic or religious segregation or demonstrably endanger national unity were subject to being banned.

The electoral system was designed to promote and facilitate widespread popular participation. In fact, it was argued that the proportional representation list-system (including the rule of the largest remainder) for electing deputies actually encouraged large numbers of candidates to take part. All resident citizens eighteen years of age or older can vote in elections, but candidates must be at least twenty-one years of age to participate. Electoral registers were usually revised during a two-month period beginning in December, and the country was divided into sixty-eight constituencies for electoral purposes. Although there was a four-month gap between the end of the first presidential elections and the first legislative elections held under the Third Republic in 1993, legislative elections were supposed to be held no less than two months after the end of presidential elections.

The Third Republic officially was inaugurated on March 27, 1993, when Zafy was sworn in as president. The victory of the Forces Vives was further consolidated in elections held on June 13, 1993, for 138 seats in the newly created National Assembly. Voters turned out in low numbers (roughly 30 to 40 percent abstained) because they were being called upon to vote for the fourth time in less than a year. The Forces Vives and other allied parties won seventy-five seats. This coalition gave Zafy a clear majority and enabled him to chose Francisque Ravony of the Forces Vives as prime minister.

By the latter half of 1994, the heady optimism that accompanied this dramatic transition process had declined somewhat as the newly elected democratic government found itself confronted with numerous economic and political obstacles. Adding to these woes was the relatively minor but nonetheless embarrassing political problem of Ratsiraka's refusal to vacate the President's Palace. The Zafy regime has found itself under increasing economic pressure from the IMF and foreign donors to implement market reforms, such as cutting budget deficits and a bloated civil service, that do little to respond to the economic problems facing the majority of Madagascar's population.

Zafy also confronted growing divisions within his ruling coalition, as well as opposition groups commonly referred to as "federalists" seeking greater power for the provinces (known as faritany) under a more decentralized government. Although recently spurred by the desire of anti-Zafy forces to gain greater control over local affairs, historically Madagascar witnessed a tension between domination by the central highlanders and pressures from residents of outlying areas to manage their own affairs. In short, the Zafy regime faced the dilemma of using relatively untested political structures and "rules of the game" to resolve numerous issues of governance.

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Page last modified: 13-10-2016 19:38:27 ZULU