Madagascar Modern History

By | January 31, 2023

Madagascar is a country located in Eastern Africa. With the capital city of Antananarivo, Madagascar has a population of 27,691,029 based on a recent census from COUNTRYAAH. Coups and popular revolts – sometimes in collaboration – have characterized Madagascar’s politics during independence after 1960. There have also been frictions between the residents of the interior and the coastal areas, as well as contradictions between those who wished to have a strong central power and those who advocated regional autonomy.

The first few years after independence from France in 1960 became troubled in Madagascar. President Philibert Tsiranana’s submissiveness to the French (see Older History) led to him having to relinquish power in 1972 to Commander-in-Chief Gabriel Ramanantsoa, ​​who pursued a more leftist and nationalist policy.

  • ABBREVIATIONFINDER: List of most commonly used acronyms containing Madagascar. Also includes historical, economical and political aspects of the country.

Following a police riot, in February 1975, Ramanantsoa surrendered power to another military, Richard Ratsimandrava, who was murdered six days later under unclear circumstances. Thereafter, a military council took office which broke down the mutiny, dissolved all political parties and introduced press censorship. In June of that year, one of the members of the military council, Commander Didier Ratsiraka, was appointed president. Check best-medical-schools for more information about Madagascar.

Ratsiraka, who is côtier (off the coast), proclaimed a socialist revolution that meant the privatization of private and French-owned companies, including French banks. His politics were largely based on Marxist and Maoist ideas.

Socialist one-party rule

Ratsiraka, in practice, acquired dictatorial power. He founded the Party of Madagascan Revolutionary Forces (Arema) in 1976, which became the core of the unity front of the National Front for the Defense of the Malagasy Socialist Revolution (FNDR). All parties wishing to participate in elections had to belong and be approved by FNDR.

While Ratsiraka made contacts with North Korea and the Soviet Union and sought to build a position as spokesman for the Third World, the unrest in society increased. Behind the unrest were unemployment, corruption, crime and a lack of basic commodities. The food shortage triggered violent demonstrations in the coastal cities in the south in 1985. Proposals for changes in higher education led to strong student protests. Opposition to the regime also grew among the parties of the unit front.

Ratsiraka was re-elected in 1989 but in the same year was forced to give up the power front of the unit front. Communism’s fall in Eastern Europe had increased Madagascar’s dependence on French aid. The combination of an increasingly loud opposition and harsh pressure from the donors forced Ratsiraka to introduce multi-party systems in 1990.

Several of the unity front parties opposed the government, along with a number of start-ups. The parties loyal to Ratsiraka joined Arema and formed a new alliance, Madagascar’s militant movement for socialism.

Ratsiraka’s regime is falling

In 1991, a newly formed opposition alliance, the Living Forces Committee, announced mass demonstrations and general strikes. The alliance, led by, among others, surgery professor Albert Zafy, challenged the regime by ignoring demonstration bans and appointing a provisional shadow government. During a peaceful demonstration outside the presidential palace in August 1991, Ratsiraka’s bodyguards killed at least 100 protesters. After that, the demands for a negotiated solution began to increase from both the army and foreign aid donors. Ratsiraka was forced to cooperate with the opposition. In October of that year, a transitional government was formed under the leadership of Zafy.

Despite fierce opposition from Ratsiraka, the new government in 1992 passed a new constitution that gave increased power to the National Assembly (Parliament), while emphasizing that the country would remain a unified state.

In the 1993 presidential election, Zafy won by a large majority over Ratsiraka. In the election to the National Assembly that year, parties with roots in the Living Forces Committee got a clear majority, but they were divided and those loyal to Zafy were at a disadvantage.

After a conflict with his prime minister, Zafy pushed through a 1995 referendum that the president – not the parliament – would appoint the head of government. Zafy, however, continued to run into parties that had previously stood on his side and soon got the whole parliament against him. In July 1996, he was dismissed by Parliament for violating the Constitution.

Ratsiraka back in power

When a new presidential election was held in November 1996, Ratsiraka was able to regain power. He had the constitution rewritten so that the president’s power was strengthened at the expense of parliament and the provinces gained greater independence. The proposals were approved by a small majority in a referendum in March 1998.

The May 1998 parliamentary elections gave the Ratsiraka party Arema a clear majority with the support of several other parties. With democratic means, the former dictator had now gained control of both Parliament and the government and the presidential post.

In 1999, the politically untested corporate leader Marc Ravalomanana was elected mayor of the capital Antananarivo. He quickly became popular and in December 2001 he ran for president. Sensationally, Ravalomanana received the most votes in the first round of elections. The official figures were 46 percent of the votes for Ravalomanana as against 40 percent for Ratsiraka. However, Ravalomanana himself claimed that he received more than 52 percent and should be called out to the president immediately, instead of meeting Ratsiraka in a second, crucial election round.

The Constitutional Court, where six judges had recently been replaced by the president, rejected Ravalomanana’s claim and there was a tug of war for power. Every day for many weeks in early 2002, close to 100,000 followers gathered at Ravalomanana in the center of Antananarivo demanding that he be appointed president. From the end of January, the confrontation intensified when a strike crippled almost all economic activity in the capital. The strike, according to the World Bank Madagascar, cost up to $ 14 million a day. Only at the end of March did Ravalomanana stop the strike.

The country is divided in power struggle

In February 2002, Ravalomanana was declared president with the help of a judge who had taken a stand for him. He appointed ministers and these could enter the government offices because a large part of the police and army no longer obeyed orders from the official government.

Ravalomanana had compact support in the capital, but in the countryside, Ratsiraka’s position was strong. Five of the six provincial governors joined Ratsiraka and declared the port city of Toamasina the “capital” of the official government. Arema’s supporters blocked the road between Toamasina and Antananarivo to starve the capital, where there was soon a serious shortage of essential supplies.

In March of the same year, the demonstrations for or against Ravalomanana began to become more violent and several fatalities occurred. Not least in Toamasina, the power struggle gained an ethnic character, when local côtiers loyal to Ratsiraka attacked people with a merina background from the highlands, who were associated with Ravalomanana. Madagascar seemed to be able to go to civil war.

In April 2002, the Supreme Court overturned Ratsiraka’s decision to substitute the Constitutional Court. Thus, the Constitutional Court’s decision on the election result was also invalidated. Then the re-elected judges announced that a recalculation of the votes showed that Ravalomanana had received 51 percent and Ratsiraka 36 percent. Although Ratsiraka had previously agreed to the recalculation, he refused to accept the result. When Ravalomanana formally took office in May, four of the six provinces were still on Ratsiraka’s side.

Ravalomanana wins in the power struggle

The situation in the blocked capital was getting worse, among other things, food and fuel began to fall. Ravalomanana decided to break the blockade with the military’s help and fighting broke out. At the end of June, Ravalomanana’s forces gained control of all but two provinces. On July 5, Ratsiraka finally gave up and fled to France. At the same time, the government-loyal army entered Toamasina, whose local commander gave up the resistance a few days later.

Following pressure from donors, Ravalomanana announced that a new election to Parliament would be held in December 2002. The election became a landslide victory for his party I Love Madagascar (TIM), which got its own majority in the National Assembly.

Ratsiraka was sentenced in August 2003 in his absence to ten years of criminal work for misappropriation of public funds. He was accused of withdrawing the equivalent of SEK 70 million from the central bank before he fled.

In 2003, Ravalomanana was able to get serious about its efforts to boost the economy through market economy reforms. The President did not neglect an opportunity to try to attract foreign investors to the country. Repeated political unrest did occasionally contribute to scare off both investors and tourists, but in the following years some stability was nevertheless created. For example, Ravalomanana pushed through the privatization of state-owned enterprises, which gave money to the Treasury. The economy gradually improved and the government’s confidence in the outside world and among donors was strengthened.

Rajoelina grabbed power

President Ravalomanana was re-elected in December 2006 but had now begun to receive criticism for not fighting vigorously enough for poverty and for greatly promoting his own business interests. In the parliamentary elections in September 2007, a breakdown was noticed in the government circle. Several members of the presidential party TIM resigned, and it was mostly the division within the opposition that allowed TIM to retain the majority.

In December 2008, authorities closed the government-critical private television channel Viva, which was owned by then 34-year-old Mayor of Antananarivo, Andry Rajoelina. From this moment he launched a fierce campaign against the government. He urged the president to step down and demanded that he himself be allowed to lead a transitional government until the next presidential election.

At the end of January 2009, chaos erupted in Antananarivo with looting and arson, since Rajoelina called for strikes. On January 31, he proclaimed himself the country’s leader. Rajoelina’s popular support increased as the military killed about 30 of his supporters who marched toward the presidential palace. During a few chaotic weeks, parts of the army and key personnel in the state apparatus went over to Rajoelina’s side. Soldiers forced the army chief to resign and on March 17, Ravalomanana was pressured to surrender power to the army, which immediately handed it over to Rajoelina.

Transitional regime under Rajoelina

On the following day, the Constitutional Court approved Rajoelina’s takeover of power, and on March 21 he formally took office. Because he was too young to be head of state – the constitution prescribed a minimum age of 40 – he called himself “president of the High Transitional Authority”. Both the United States and France described the change of power as a coup, and the AU excluded Madagascar until further notice.

Ravalomanana went after the coup in the country. He was sentenced in June 2009 in his absence to four years in prison and fines for misuse of public funds.

Rajoelina had believed that the outside world would recognize him as president. Instead, the economic base for the country was eroded as investors, tourists and donors withdrew. The setbacks caused him to enter into a transition regime agreement with the three previous presidents Ravalomanana, Ratsiraka and Zafy. The agreement was signed in August 2009 in Maputo, Mozambique with the help of international mediators. It would apply until the next presidential and parliamentary elections, to be held by the end of 2010. Impunity was issued for Ravalomanana and Ratsiraka – and indirectly also for Rajoelina – for any crimes committed during the political turmoil.

But since the four parties had failed in the distribution of the key ministerial posts, Rajoelina presented in September instead his own government which consisted almost entirely of people loyal to him.

International insulation

Internationally, the new government received a chilly reception. Faced with the threat that Madagascar would lose nearly a billion dollars in aid, the four agreed in November on a new power-sharing agreement, but a month later no transitional government had been formed. When Rajoelina failed to attend a new meeting in Maputo in December, the three presidents made a “fair” distribution of ministerial posts but were then accused by Rajoelina of coup attempt and high treason.

In the following months, Rajoelina stepped back step by step from the agreements and finally took open distance from the co-government.

On March 17, 2010 – the day a year after the coup – the AU imposed new sanctions on Rajoelina and about 100 of his supporters. The penalties included travel bans and frozen assets in foreign banks.

Pressured even by its own military leadership, Rajoelina made new contact with Ravalomanana in April 2010 and in May presented a timetable for a return to democratic rule. Before any of this was accomplished, Ravalomanana was sentenced in his absence to life imprisonment and sentencing for the shooting deaths in February 2009.

In November 2010, a referendum was held on a new constitution, despite protests from the outside world and despite the larger opposition parties calling for a boycott. The most important change was that the age to be elected president was lowered. The critics felt that the sole purpose of the new constitution was to secure Rajoelina’s continued power holdings. 99 percent of the slightly over 50 percent of voters who participated in the referendum said yes to the proposed changes.

New elections are announced

In early 2011, Rajoelina signed an agreement with eight opposition parties on a “roadmap for democracy”. A transitional government was formed and new promises of general elections were made, and in September of the same year, Ravalomanana’s and Zafy’s groupings also signed the agreement, which would pave the way for elections within a year. This was followed by the transitional government being replaced in November with a unifying government in which the parties of the two presidents decided, after some doubt, to participate.

The third president, Ratsiraka, returned in the same vein to his home country after nine years in exile. But in spite of the agreement, in January 2012, Ravalomanana refused to return from his exodus in South Africa. His party then decided to interrupt government cooperation.

Without a solution to the domestic political crisis, in August 2012, the Election Commission announced presidential and parliamentary elections in the spring and summer of 2013. The election was postponed several times, but finally the presidential election was held in two rounds in October and December.

The fears that arose about the unrest in the elections were not true. It could be carried out under calm conditions.

Rajoelina’s favorite wins

A special electoral court had banned Rajoelina, Ravalomanana and Ratsiraka from participating, and the final battle for the presidential post was instead between candidates that Rajoelina and Ravalomanana supported. Winner was former Finance Minister Hery Rajaonarimampianina, Rajoelina’s favorite. Jean-Louis Robinson, supported by Ravalomanana, came in second.

In the parliamentary elections, which were also held in December, Rajoelina’s newly formed support party got the most mandate with President Andry Rajoelina, but not his own majority. The second largest party was the Ravalomanana movement, which was made up of supporters of the president. Three came the newly formed party Madagasker, which starts again together.

International observatories approved the election and described it as well-organized.

When Rajaonarimampianina took office as president in January 2014, the change of power from coup leader to popular president meant that Madagascar could begin a political and economic recovery after the crisis years. International lenders such as the IMF and the World Bank resumed cooperation with the country through renewed direct budget support. At the same time, Madagascar was welcomed back as a member of the AU.

New political unrest

In April of that year, physician Roger Kolo was appointed new prime minister for a government consisting of mostly professional experts or relatively unknown politicians. Only two representatives of Rajoelina’s party Mapar were included in the government. But already in January 2015, the government resigned due to growing popular dissatisfaction with the election promises of a better standard of living for residents not being fulfilled. The new Prime Minister was appointed Flight Officer Jean Ravelonarivo.

Political unrest erupted again in October 2014 when President Ravalomanana was arrested and placed under house arrest when he returned to his home country for the first time since he was deposed in the coup in 2009. Prior to his arrest, Ravalomanana had hinted that he still had political ambitions. Kravall police fired tear gas at a demonstration in support of Ravalomanana. In May 2015, however, Ravalomanana was released from house arrest after recognizing the legitimacy of the current government.

In May 2015, Parliament unexpectedly voted to dismiss President Rajaonarimampianina by bringing him before the national court. It was unclear whether the process was compatible with the Constitution, which it was for the Constitutional Court to decide.

The president is weakening

One month later, the Constitutional Court annulled Parliament’s decision to bring Rajaonarimampianina to court. The decision lacked legal basis and the president had not acted in violation of the Constitution according to the court.

In April 2016, it was clear that Prime Minister Ravelonarivo had left the post and that Interior Minister Olivier Solonandrasana replaced him. The reason Ravelonarivo was forced to leave was stated to be a long-standing conflict with the president.

In May 2017, Ravalomanana’s party TIM withdrew its support for the government after a TIM minister had been dismissed. The President thus led a minority government with limited opportunities to enforce important laws in Parliament.

Madagascar Modern History