Elections to test Madagascar's fragile democracy
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Antananarivo - Madagascans will head to the polls on November 7 to elect a new leader for the African island, which experienced a lengthy political crisis earlier this year.
Politics in Madagascar, a former French colony that is among the world's poorest countries, have long been marred by coups and unrest, with citizens rarely experiencing a peaceful transfer of power.
Things came to a head in April this year when parliament adopted a new electoral law, which the opposition said would favour the current government in the upcoming elections.
For more than a month, 73 opposition members of parliament and their supporters staged protests in the centre of the capital Antananarivo demanding the resignation of the head of state.
A compromise was found only after the military threatened to step in if the government did not follow a constitutional court order to find a candidate that all parties agreed on for the post of prime minister and to establish a national unity government.
As a result, Christian Ntsay, a UN-agency technocrat, was appointed as prime minister and the electoral law was amended.
Thirty-six candidates are running for president in the elections, which are expected to go to a second round.
Among the contenders with the most support are three former presidents: Hery Rajaonarimampianina, Andry Rajoelina and Marc Ravolamanana.
Ravalomanana has been convicted of a range of offences in relation to a 2009 coup, while Rajoelina's years in power were marked by rampant corruption.
"These elections do matter, because they will test whether Madagascar is able to hold a peaceful presidential contest that gives voters a genuine democratic choice - and one that is respected by the main political contenders," Paul Melly, a Madagascar expert at the London-based Chatham House think tank, told dpa.
"Since [Madagascar gained] independence almost 60 years ago, most changes of president have come about through coups, mass unrest or civil disobedience," he said. However, the last elections in 2013 were peaceful.
While he doesn't expect major violence this time either, Melly said "localized violence or urban protests that turn violent are certainly a possibility."
"What matters in this election is not the identity of the winner ... but that the process should be fair and free, and that the result should be recognized by the losing campaigns as legitimate," Melly said.
Many ordinary people on the island in the Indian Ocean say they don't expect much to change after the vote.
"I don't think [it] will change things but I feel the duty to vote," Andry Razafintsalama, a 23-year-old student, told dpa.
Clara Razafindrakoto, 33, a teacher in Imerintsiatosika, a rural community an hour from the capital, said she doesn't believe the politicians' promises.
"There are some candidates who came here and gave us T-shirts and money ... They said that if they are in power, they will help us. But they do not suffer like we do. It's just demagoguery," she said.
Rajoelina has promised to fight corruption, saying he has "changed," while Rajaonarimampianina has vowed to try to alleviate extreme poverty.
But local political analyst Ketakandriana Rafitoson believes the best outcome would be a new president, since all the main presidential contenders have already had a shot at governing and failed.
"It is an opportunity for the people to choose a new president who, we hope, will be able to recover the country and to defeat its most persistent demons: poverty, corruption, impunity, bad governance," she said.
"Unfortunately ... those who are likely to win these elections are the specialists and sources of these vices mentioned above," she said.
"One after another, they have pushed this country into the abyss."dpa