Madagascar’s Rajoelina seeks re-election after weeks of opposition protests

By Lovasoa Rabary

ANTANANARIVO (Reuters) – Madagascar’s president is set to seek re-election on Thursday in the face of weeks of protests by opposition groups who say he is ineligible to run and the vote should be delayed.

Andry Rajoelina – a 49-year-old entrepreneur and former DJ – rose to power in a 2009 coup that scared off investors in the Indian Ocean island. He stepped down after almost five years as leader of a transitional authority and then became president after winning a 2018 election.

Officials said they were pressing ahead with plans for Thursday’s first-round ballot, just days after the leader of the lower house of parliament – a member of the president’s own party – called for the vote to be suspended as the conditions were not right.

Over the past six weeks, police have used tear gas to break up regular protests by supporters of Rajoelina’s political opponents who say he should be disqualified because he acquired French nationality in 2014.

The contest has rekindled long-running rivalries between three of the island’s wealthiest men – Rajoelina and two other ex-presidents, Marc Ravalomanana and Hery Rajaonarimampianina. Ten other candidates are also running.

Ten of the 12 rival candidates including Ravalomanana and Rajaonarimampianina have said they want the vote to be postponed. Rival candidates have also called for new people to be put in charge of the electoral commission and demanded the creation of a special court to hear vote disputes.

Rajoelina says the constitution does not require the head of state to exclusively hold Malagasy nationality.

At a campaign rally on Sunday in the capital Antananarivo, he urged supporters to vote and dismissed the opposition calls for delays as a political tactic.

“The Malagasy people do not want any more destabilisation … we really don’t want another crisis,” he told thousands of supporters who were wearing the orange colours of his political party Young Malagasy People Ready.

The head of the constitutional court on Monday appealed for calm and urged people to resolve their differences via the ballot box.

The court had not received any communication from the leader of the national assembly asking for the presidential vote to be postponed, and the first round was expected to proceed on Thursday, court head Florent Rakotoarisoa told a news conference.

The United Nations human rights office last month said Malagasy security forces had used “unnecessary and disproportionate force” against peaceful protesters and called for respect for freedom of expression and assembly.

In response the government said its duty was to maintain order.

Just over 11 million people out of a population of roughly 30 million are registered to vote in the election on the island which has nickel, cobalt and gold reserves.

(Additional reporting by Ary-Misa Rakotobe; Writing by Giulia Paravicini; Editing by George Obulutsa, Alexander Winning and Andrew Heavens)