Low turnout looms over boycott-hit Madagascar presidential electionThu, 16 Nov 2023 16:51:51 GMT

Madagascar voted in highly contested presidential elections Thursday that were boycotted by most opposition candidates and appeared to have resulted in a very low turnout.As polling stations  closed and counting started, two senior sources at the electoral commission told AFP, on condition of anonymity, that preliminary data suggested less than 20 percent of those registered showed up to vote. President Andry Rajoelina has voiced confidence in being re-elected, brushing off weeks of protests that have rocked the Indian Ocean island nation.But most opposition candidates disowned  the vote.”We do not recognise these elections and the Malagasy population in its great majority does not recognise them either,” Hajo Andrianainarivelo, 56, told a press conference in the capital Antananarivo, speaking on behalf of 10 of 12 opposition candidates.”The elections did not respect the required democratic standards and this was proven by the participation rate, which was the lowest in Madagascar’s electoral history,” he added, citing observers’ reports which also put turnout at around 20 percent. The opposition grouping had urged voters to shun the ballot, complaining of an “institutional coup” in favour of Rajoelina, 49. “I’m confident in the maturity of Malagasy democracy, and I’m also confident in the choice of the Malagasy people,” Rajoelina said after voting in Antananarivo.”There are always people trying to stir up trouble and prevent elections in Madagascar. But I thank the wisdom of the people.”A poor turnout is likely to strengthen the opposition grouping, which has vowed to continue protesting until a fair election is held.Eleven million people were registered to vote in the country of about 30 million.- ‘Turn the page’ – Voting passed off calmly in the capital, AFP journalists saw, with voters emerging from rudimentary polling centres, their thumbs stained with green and gold indelible ink.”I’m worried because there are some factions who just want the country to be in chaos,” computer science student Francky Randriananantoandro told AFP.”We have to move on, turn the page. For 60 years that was already the case, and I think we have to stop now.”Madagascar is the leading global producer of vanilla but also one of the world’s poorest countries and has been shaken by successive crises since independence from France in 1960.From October, the opposition grouping, including two former presidents, has led near-daily, largely unauthorised protest marches.Police have regularly dispersed them, firing tear gas.On Wednesday, authorities imposed a night-time curfew in Antananarivo, following what police said were “various acts of sabotage”.Rajoelina first took power in 2009 on the back of a coup that ousted then president Marc Ravalomanana, who is among the boycotting opposition candidates.After not contesting the 2013 election due to international pressure, Rajoelina was voted back into power in 2018. As his opponents refused to campaign, he flew across the country by private plane, showcasing schools, roads and hospitals built during his tenure.”I’m voting, but we know this isn’t normal,” said 43-year-old Eugene Rakatomalala. “There weren’t any candidates who did campaigns.”Many others seemed to have stayed away.- Voting ‘for a better life’ -Two hours before polls closed, at a polling station in Ravalomanana’s stronghold district in Antananarivo, an election official yawned. Another sat with his head resting on his hands.Only 18 percent of those registered there had shown up. “It’s really not much,” said one official.At another polling station in a poor district of the capital, officials told an AFP reporter during the afternoon that turnout was around 30 percent.For many, politics takes a back seat to making ends meet.  “In the morning, I don’t eat — only a little at lunchtime and in the evening. Otherwise, I can’t get by, I don’t have enough,” Josiane Rasomalala, 41, told AFP.”I’m voting because we need a better life.”Madagascar has been in turmoil since media reports in June revealed Rajoelina had acquired French nationality in 2014.Under local law, the president should have lost his Madagascan nationality, and with it, the ability to lead the country, his opponents said.Rajoelina denied trying to conceal his naturalisation, saying he became French to allow his children to study abroad.His critics were further enraged by another ruling allowing for a presidential ally to take over on an interim basis after Rajoelina resigned under the constitution to run for re-election.They have also complained about electoral irregularities.In Androy, southern Madagascar, “The polling stations are literally closed, there are no voters,” said Siteny Randrianasoloniaiko, one of two opposition candidates not taking part in the boycott.”In some offices, there are no voting booths… we are already seeing fraud.”Results are not expected for at least a week.