afrol News, 9 December - Two weeks into the presidential election campaign, two candidates are achieving the main attention. Incumbent President Didier Ratsiraka (66), running for his fifth term in office, is most visible in the campaign, while Antananarivo mayor Marc Ravalomanana gets publicity by being the target of attacks by all candidates.
According to reports by the Indian Ocean News Agency, MATERA, Ravalomanana's criticisers include the President Ratsiraka, alleging Ravalomanana lacks the required political experience to lead the country. On the other hand, ex-President and candidate Albert Zafy and as his party supporters accuse Ravalomanana of being an opportunist with several financial scandals behind him.
Last week, Ravalomanana's opponents pulled up wall papers claiming the popular Antananarivo mayor had failed to pay his company's debts and his businesses were not transparent. Ravalomanana, not wanting to comment on the critics, enjoys wide support in the capital and increasingly in rural areas.
While Ratsiraka and Zafy both are "grand old men" of Malagasy politics, and are expected to suffer from the widespread longing for a "new face" in the presidency, Ravalomanana's campaigners are using this point for all it is worth. He is presented as "a young and new man, capable of accelerating the fight against poverty." Ravalomanana would be "a favourable surprise," said campaigner Sazalahy Tsianihy. Ravalomanana has pulled huge crowds during his rallies.
The Malagasy electoral campaign showed signs of becoming "dirty" already before its opening on 25 November. A clash in the capital between the supporters of the incumbent President and a group of the opposition's supporters on 22 November left 14 persons injured.
The Malagasy government had thoroughly prepared for calm and transparent presidential elections to be realised on 16 December. Home Secretary Jean-Jacques Rasolondraibe, responsible minister for conducting the elections, earlier assured the National Election Committee had published the voter's lists and had put up the 16.359 poll stations around the island.
The European Union, calling for free and fair elections in Madagascar two weeks ago, had welcomed the promise by Malagasy authorities to ensure the voting process would be "held under democratic procedures." Over 20 organisations have been approved as observers for the presidential election.
So far, no single comment has been made by the organisations supervising the election, even though several voters have reported discrepancies on the election register, PANA reports. Elections on Madagascar traditionally have been relatively free, fair and non-violent. Last communal elections, in 1999, were however criticised for being "poorly organised and fraudulent".
A recent study of the Malagasy political system by Richard R. Marcus of the Western Oregon University (US) however concludes that "President Ratsiraka is actively trying to reverse whatever gains have been made during Madagascar's democratization process. While campaigning on a new slogan of freedom with development, Ratsiraka's has successfully moved the country back towards the autocracy of the Second Republic. He has sought numerous ploys to enhance his own self-interest."
- The 80% of the people who live outside of the cities are on their own to broaden and deepen the democratic process, Marcus holds. "Yet, they are ill-prepared for this job. ... As a result, Madagascar's Third Elections will likely serve to legitimize autocracy and consolidate a democracy of limited quality."
However, Marc Ravalomanana might be just the man to break with the Antananarivo power monopoly, local analysts claim. The rather desperate attacks by President Ratsiraka point to the possibility that Ravalomanana was a populist factor he had not counted with.