Madagascar announces night curfew ahead of elections boycotted by opposition

By Lovasoa Rabary

ANTANANARIVO (Reuters) – Madagascar announced a night-time curfew on Wednesday on the eve of a tense first round of presidential elections which follows more than six weeks of protests that authorities quelled with tear gas and violence.

The move comes days after ten of 12 opposition candidates pulled out of the race, saying current President Andry Rajoelina is ineligible to run and calling on their supporters to boycott Thursday’s vote on the Indian Ocean island.

“We must strengthen the security of the election to prevent things from happening,” said police prefect Angelo Ravelonarivo.

Marc Ravalomanana was one of two former presidents to join calls for a boycott.

“If this election is not postponed, Madagascar will experience a major crisis because the population will reject the results,” he said in a meeting with other opposition candidates on Tuesday.

Despite reserves of nickel, cobalt, gold, uranium and other minerals, Madagascar is one of the world’s poorest countries. Just over 11 million people out of a population of roughly 30 million are registered to vote.

Calls by the opposition to postpone the elections were echoed by the organisation grouping Madagascar’s four biggest Christian churches, which declared on Wednesday that it would not observe the vote, citing an unsuitable political environment and lack of standards.

The island’s president appeared undeterred and at a campaign rally on Sunday urged supporters to cast their ballots.

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 heard from the leader of the national assembly asking for the vote to be postponed, and the first round was expected to go ahead as planned on Thursday, court head Florent Rakotoarisoa told a news conference.

(Reporting by Lovasoa Rabary; writing by Giulia Paravicini; editing by Nick Macfie)