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Madagascar - Politics

Philibert TsirananaPSD 01 May 195911 Oct 1972
Gabriel RamanantsoaMil 11 Oct 197205 Feb 1975
Richard Ratsimandrava Mil 05 Feb 197511 Feb 1975
Gilles AndriamahazoMil 12 Feb 197515 Jun 1975
Didier Ratsiraka (1st time)AREMA+FNDR 15 Jun 197527 Mar 1993
Albert ZafyUNDD 27 Mar 199305 Sep 1996
Norbert Ratsirahonana (acting)AVI 05 Sep 199609 Feb 1997
Didier Ratsiraka (2nd time)AREMA 09 Feb 199705 Jul 2002
Marc RavalomananaTIM 22 Feb 200217 Mar 2009
Hyppolite Raharison RamarosonMil17 Mar 2009(hours)
Andry RajoelinaTGV17 Mar 200925 Jan 2014
Hery Martial RajaonarimampianinaHVM25 Jan 201419 Jan 2019
Andry RajoelinaTGV19 Jan 2019

In the 1946 National Assembly elections, the Merina-dominated Democratic Movement for Malagasy Renewal (MDRM) won all three of the available seats. Some 50-80,000 people died in a revolt against colonial rule, which began in 1947 and was not completely subdued until December 1948. Blame for instigating the rebellion was placed on extremist elements of the MDRM despite the fact that people from all over the island participated.

Coups are very common in Madagascar. Political power is concentrated, and policy commitments are difficult to make given the fragility of elite bargains. Big families (many of which descendants from the traditional Malagasy noblesse which once dominated the markets of Antananarivo and who rose in opposition to the leading noble families (e.g. the Merina) need political patrons to maintain their influence. Local politicians depend on financing by these families for their electoral campaigns. Since dominant coalitions of ruling elites are fluid and continue to change, a short-term ‘survival’ strategy is encouraged. There is powerful evidence for the capture of both the central and local executive and the Judiciary by private interests.

Although the population of Madagascar comprises some 18 ethnic groups who are united by a common Malagasy language, the two larger groups, Merina and côtiers, have a history of conflictual relations. Group members have migrated across the island's regions in search of economic opportunities, but are primarily located in the Central Highlands of Madagascar. The Merina, who reside in the highland plateaus, are the light-skinned descendants of those of Asian-Pacific origin. In contrast, the peoples of the coast are darker-skinned and are of African origins. They are collectively referred to as the côtier and include the Betsimisaraka of the east coast, the Tsimihety of the north and the Antandroy of the south. The Merina follow multiple religious beliefs, but the Protestant church receives its largest support from the Merina population. Unlike the other ethnic groups of Madagascar, the Merina and Betsileo practice a turning of the dead where relatives are taken from the tomb and reburied during a ceremony.

Formal authority has been exercised under the President, who has a near-imperial role with minimal checks on accountability. Formal institutions and mechanisms to ensure accountability, such as Parliament, the Judiciary and other oversight institutions are relatively ineffective. Likewise, informal accountability mechanisms, such as social accountability tools by civil society are still in the early stages and will take time to be developed and expanded to the national level. They have shown promise at improving services, and in making local governments more inclusive, but have not yet been scaled up to higher level governance issues.

Governing institutions in Madagascar have been significantly reformed but they have been reformed to the benefit of each sitting President rather than to support robust governance. The lack of independence of the political parties, the legislating environment, and the Judiciary has undermined their core functions. Governance reforms have also had little chance of success because the governing environment itself has shown little stability. Each President has changed the constitution to suit his needs and the territorial divisions of the country itself regularly shift both in the number of levels and the relationships of power between decentralized and deconcentrated units.

The political leadership does not allow institutions to compete with it. Madagascar has not witnessed decades of a “big man” rule unlike other African countries, and each President has considered himself a reformer and an institution-builder. There is relatively strong technical capacity in Madagascar, in comparison with other countries. However, governance reforms did not have any lasting effect as institutions were subservient to personal networks. The persistent governance pattern is the building of formal institutions to the point that they do not threaten Presidential power and undermining them when and where they do.

Given the strong influence of political and economic elites, the legal framework is applied selectively, and has given rise to a perception of widespread impunity. Even where good legal frameworks and policies exist, they are applied inconsistently, in line with the limited reform commitments by the political and economic elite, which will not allow any reform moves beyond its comfort zone and sphere of control.

In neo-patrimonial rule as found in Madagascar, the Presidency maintains power through personal patronage but leaders are part of the administrative system not in competition with it. Leaders occupy office in order to grow status, acquire wealth, and, ultimately, support their personal networks that manage public space. Rent-seeking serves to ensure an equilibrium in which it is beneficial for competing Malagasy elites not to recur to violence for attaining resources or power. As such, the formal rules of the state itself have limited capacity. Rather, governance is characterized by interlocking public and private networks seeking control of rents as a mechanism for maintaining power and stability.

Commitments within the dominant elite coalition are fluid and unstable, shocks can easily lead to violence and the rise of new coalitions, and it is difficult for elites to commit to particular rules. In political economy terms, overstepping the limits of the “elite bargain” that allows Presidents to rule, would make it no longer acceptable to other elite members of the dominant coalition. Using governance reforms for consolidating the grasp on political power and using public office for giving preference to own companies, accruing too large a share of economic rents would threaten the rent-seeking interests of other economic elites which could lead to defection. Seen in this light and the framework of the Limited Access Order, the political turmoil and the threat of violence which occurred in 2009 was an inevitable outcome of the logic of the struggle for power among Malagasy elites.

One suggested conclusion is that the nature of the crisis is deeper and more structural and difficult to be resolved by the presence or absence of individual personalities on the political stage. It appears that Madagascar is going to require a new elite bargain to resolve the current political deadlock (which prospect does not seem immediate) or, failing that, a political upheaval that reveals new political actors who might influence a resolution. The political and economic crisis has an enormous cost because it sets back economic and social development and will likely result in an increase in poverty rates.

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Page last modified: 06-09-2021 11:50:41 ZULU