The power tussle between Madagascar's President Marc Ravalomanana and the charismatic Andry Rajoelina, former mayor of the capital, Antananarivo, has already claimed more than 100 lives since 26 January – what is behind the violence, and what happens next?
In a two-part series, IRIN asked three analysts to examine the dangerous political standoff, in which Rajoelina has been able to mobilize his supporters to take to the streets of Antananarivo to demand Ravalomanana's ousting on the grounds of his alleged "autocratic" style of government.
For Part Two click here.
The three analysts are:
• Richard Marcus (RM), Director of the International Studies Programme at California State University, in the US.
• Solofo Randrianja (SR), professor of Political History, University of Toamasina, Madagascar.
• Stephen Ellis (SE), professor in the faculty of social sciences at the Free University of Amsterdam and Senior researcher at the Africa Study Centre in Leiden, the Netherlands.
The heart of the matter
Stephen Ellis: "Marc Ravalomanana himself used the mayor's office in Antananarivo as a launch pad for successful opposition in 2001 [when he won the presidential election, ending the 26-year rule of Didier Ratsiraka]. Moreover, there is a tradition of Antananarivo being the seat of the national opposition that goes back to the 1960s. Rajoelina is working within an established tradition.
In a classic 'rags to riches' story, President Marc Ravalomanana started out selling homemade yoghurt from the back of his bicycle on the streets of the capital, Antananarivo, and now owns the largest indigeneous company on the island.
He served as mayor of Antananarivo before taking office as president in 2002 after a protracted and violent struggle against Didier Ratsiraka, who had ruled the country for 26 years. While economic indicators suggest Madagascar has fared well under his leadership, most ordinary Malagasy are yet to benefit from Ravalomanana's business-friendly economic strategy.
Both his alleged authoritarian style and questions surrounding his private business interests have been the subject of increasingly loud criticism, in a country that remains one of the world’s poorest.
"The events of 2001-02 seemed to suggest that ethnicity was losing the political purchase that it has had since the 1950s. [Politicians in Madagascar have often exploited ethnicity, pitting the 'Merina' of the highlands against the 'Cotiers', predominant in the coastal areas]. The fact that both men [Ravalomanana and Rajoelina] are from the highlands suggests that political ethnicity is continuing to lose its importance."
Richard Marcus: "Nonetheless, there is something important here for two reasons: Rajoelina's base of support is created in the belly of President Ravalomanana's. This is true, ethnically, but perhaps more importantly, it is true geographically. Rajoelina has been effective at marshalling disaffected former Ravalomanana supporters within the political sphere.
"He has also marshalled disaffected former supporters in the business sector [opponents argue there is a conflict of interest between Ravalomanana's personal corporate activities and his role as president], dramatically unhappy with the Tiko Group [the island's biggest food conglomerate, owned by Ravalomanana].
"Ravalomanana was the first Malagasy politician to transcend the Merina-Cotier divide. He did this by using his personal financial resources to turn his national business network into a political one. With this, he rose from regional to national prominence very rapidly in 2001. Rajoelina is a business leader but he lacks such a national network; he lacks the personal funds, and, at 34, he lacks the experience and savvy to pull that off. In this sense the game of being viewed as 'Merina' is different for Rajoelina than it was for Ravalomanana.
Solofo Randrianja: "The election of Rajoelina as the mayor of the capital was a warning to Ravalomanana and his regime one year ago. Antananarivo city and provinces host the majority of voters ... so this is an important factor. Ravalomanana and his regime had been warned about some aspects of [their governance record]. So behind [Rajoelina's] election there was an aspiration for democratic change."
The army stands down
RM: "It is a marvel how disciplined the military has been in Madagascar throughout the years. Social movements can occur only because the army has stayed in its barracks. Sure, 2002 saw a dividing of the military between Marc Ravalomanana and Didier Ratsiraka ... But, the relatively low body count - relative to the high conflict - is a sign of how restrained the army can be. [Seven months of violence followed presidential elections in December 2001 until the Supreme Court backed Ravalomanana and Ratsiraka fled to France].
"There was brief talk in 2002 about a "third way" – essentially a coup that would stabilize the country until it could move towards new elections. It was the military leadership itself that trampled on this option. That military restraint is on full display today."
SR: "There is a [government] project to reform the army - the removal of ageing generals, with lots of them pushing for retirement. A colonel earns as much as a simple policeman, for instance. This explains the fact that the army did not do anything on 26th of January, when the looting started [by Rajoelina's supporters]. The army is divided deeply."
Tapping into despair
RM: "Many of my colleagues have made critical points about ongoing poverty and the economic reform programme. I don't disagree - I would just disaggregate more. Madagascar is not worse off than it was in 2002. Poverty has in fact decreased, while aggregate economic indicators have increased dramatically. The destabilising factor is the distribution.
"The MAP [Madagascar Action Plan – the country's poverty reduction strategy] was a platform item for the TIM [Ravalomanana's 'Tiako-I-Madagasikara' or 'I love Madagascar' party] and a hallmark programme for Ravalomanana. This sort of top-down approach can make a president a hero if he succeeds.
"However, where the results are perceived as slow in coming, particularly as key individuals and private sector interests are perceived as getting rich, discontent will grow. Ravalomanana had a very long honeymoon. That is over. There are no significant results for the average citizen, and they are grievously unhappy about it."
SR: "Rajoelina is manipulating Antananarivo's proletariat ... he is [exploiting] that kind of misery, which is real and [affects the] young people in particular. Five hundred thousand people each year are arriving on the job market. They are excluded from the benefits of the ultra-liberalisation policies [Ravalomanana] chose to develop the economy."
Options running out
SR: "Rajoelina has become more and more isolated, and his funds are becoming scarce. He has now been forced to adopt an extreme position. Ravalomanana does not need to negotiate, Rajoelina is isolated. Ravalomanana is trying to respond to the legitimate grievance around corruption and so on. For people living [in Madagascar] there is a big difference between now and past regimes – but corruption will not disappear overnight."
SE: "It is not clear what Rajoelina can do next – in a sense, both he and Ravalomanana emerge as losers from the current crisis. Violence could easily emerge in provincial capitals such as Majunga and Diego Suarez.
"It is unclear whether Rajoelina has international support – foreign powers seem to support the current president, who, after all, was duly elected and who also seems unlikely to be toppled in the short term."
RM: "At the end of January [Rajoelina] was making significant inroads. It looked like he might be able to use the existing soft opposition to build a national base. Indeed, it looked like he was trying to follow many of the plays in Ravalomanana's playbook from 2001.
"Strategically, that has meant that Ravalomanana has had to act quickly. He couldn't arrest Rajoelina, because it would make him a martyr and prove him right [that Ravalomanana was autocratic] but he did push him out of office [Rajoelina was sacked as mayor on 3 February]. Rajoelina, for his part, overplayed his hand.
"The turning point came when he declared himself 'in charge' after weeks of saying he didn't want to run the country, but rather stand up for the people to bring about changes in the Ravalomanana government, or else a transitional government led by someone else. His support in the streets dropped by three-fourths overnight. The viability of building a national base was undermined.
"Important here is that despite diminishing options for Rajoelina, he has tapped into a vast and growing malaise. Even Ravalomanana's supporters see him as a centrifugal force. [Ravalomanana] has been a reformer, but governance transparency has waned, political liberties have diminished, and he has conflated the private and public sector in innovative ways that are neither beneficial to Madagascar nor perceived as beneficial to Madagascar.
"The EU and the World Bank suspended budgetary support to Ravalomanana in December because of such governance concerns. This is very significant, because much of Ravalomanana's strength over the past few years has come from unflagging international support. Rajoelina has very broad support for his criticism of the government - he just can't activate an alternative. He has, however, paved the way for someone to do that.
In short, Rajoelina is fast running out of options, but he has forced Ravalomanana into a corner. Either Ravalomanana is going to have to begin changing his approach to governance [to be both more inclusive and more transparent] or he is going to have to centralize more to the point of significant democratic backsliding."
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions