Free and fair elections hang in balance in the upcoming Madagascar 2023 polls.
With less than six months for the Malagasy people to go to the polls, there remains uncertainty on whether the election will be free, fair, and transparent, come November 2023.
Despite the assurance from President Ange Rajoelina, that his government will deliver free and fair elections, there are already tale-tale signs suggesting otherwise.
The ban on all demonstrations of political nature in public places with the exception of the executive is already setting the tone within which the elections will be held and what awaits opposition politicians.
Restrictions on public political activities under the disguise of maintaining law and order, and the crackdown on dissent voices and opposition politicians demonstrate a regime that is intent on entrenching electoral autocracy. The ban is in violation of public freedoms of assembly and association.
The secret known is that the ban is meant to advantage the incumbent President Ange Rajoelina who is believed to be on the ballot come November 2023, even though he has not yet declared himself as a candidate.
Given the country’s history of very expensive election campaigns, this casts doubt and raises questions on what extent money will shout in the slated presidential elections this time around.
Despite Madagascar having a progressive law on political financing, the law largely suffers from enforcement and compliance. The Political Finance Control Commission which is responsible for enforcing transparency in political financing and campaign financing remains toothless. The law for the third election cycle continues to be in place without sanctions that can deter the actions of politicians and political parties for being non-compliant.
The previous presidential campaign of 2018 went down in history as the most expensive campaign in the world per vote garnered. Incumbent President Ange Rajoelina who spent massively to win is also expected to be a candidate. The 2018 presidential election was cited to involve Russian oligarchs bankrolling candidates in exchange for commercial interests.
Declaring the source of campaign financing for politicians or political parties remains one of the most violated provisions in the political financing law that undermines transparency in political financing. According to a 2021 study by Transparency International Initiative Madagascar, over 60% of Malagasy people indicated that they wanted to know the origin of candidates’ campaign funds.
In the absence of sanctions, transparency in campaign sources for candidates and political parties remains on the wish list that ultimately rests on the goodwill and sense of ethics of political actors which unfortunately is much in short supply.