Institutional Background

Abraham Contos
Institutional Background-A history of referendum

After over fifteen years of the socialist policies of Didier Ratsiraka, with only minimal economic reforms, Madagascar started its Third Republic. In 1992, a new constitution was drafted under the direction of a National Forum put together by the FFKM (Malagasy Christian Council of Churches) (Wikipedia). The new constitution provided for a bicameral legislation with a National Assembly comprised of 160 deputies directly elected by the people and a Senate, two thirds of which were to be elected indirectly by the people and one third to be appointed by the president. A prime minister was appointed by his peers from the National Assembly and the president was to be elected by popular vote of the people. A complex system of constitutional and financial courts is said to be independent. Nine justices of the High Constitutional Court are appointed by the President, Senate, National Assembly, and the High Council of Magistrates.

However, four key constitutional referendums have combined with practical application to mold the Third Republic into a much more centralized state than was originally described on paper in 1992. Each president since 1992 has put forth one referendum which seems designed to strengthen presidential powers at the expense of other government apparatuses which would normally serve as checks and balances.

President Zafy Albert was the first to take the helm of the Third Republic. Originally benefiting from a large support base as the successful opposition to Ratsiraka, Zafy soon found himself mixed up in corruption. While excepting money from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Zafy’s government sought to tap into private sources of funding through a process conveniently termed “parallel financing” but which was eventually considered by the IMF to be a fraudulent scheme in which Madagascar paid out much more than they got back. When Zafy’s prime minister decided to finally start cooperating with the IMF and abandon “parallel financing,” Zafy and he had a sort of falling out. It was in this climate that Zafy called for a referendum in 1995 giving the president power to appoint the prime minister rather than the National assembly. A yes vote passed with 64 percent of the vote and a turnout of 65 percent. But his success didn’t last long as the National Assembly impeached him a year later on the grounds that his actions and the referendum were unconstitutional.

In the following elections Ratsiraka returned to power after winning 51 percent of the vote over the now discredited Zafy. The people’s frustration with their apparent lack of choice is show by the low voter turnout of 58 percent. Ratsiraka made good on his vow to return and bring with him a new constitution when he proposed a referendum in 1998 which not only again proposed giving power to the president to appoint the prime minister but also the power to dissolve parliament. It also divided the country into six semi-autonomous provinces. Using his increased presidential powers, Ratsiraka continued to consolidate power but was soon confronted with a new opposition party led by March Ravalomanana.

Marc, the mayor of the capital city of Antananarivo and the head of a national dairy company, transcended traditional societal cleavages by means of his dairy company to recruit a wide support base in all six provinces. In elections in late 2001, Marc garnered a plurality of vote at 46 percent and perhaps even an absolute majority depending on which accusation of voter fraud could be trusted. Amid heightened tensions and accusations, Marc and his supporters refused to accept a runoff election claiming victory in the first round and eventually Ratsiraka fled to France after retreating to the east coast (his area of support base) cutting off transportation routes in his retreat. Marc’s popularity was confirmed shortly thereafter when his party TIKO took a 103 of 160 seats in the National Assembly.

Marc’s turn at constitutional revision came in 2007 right after the 2006 presidential elections which he handily won with 54 percent (second place taking only 11 percent of the vote). This referendum was aimed largely at dissolving the six provincial districts drawn up in the 1998 referendum but also at giving the president emergency powers and adding English to the list of official languages of the state. It also sought to constitutionalize the Madagascar Action Plan drawn up by Marc for development across the countries. It was passed with only 44 percent turnout but 75 percent voting yes.

Finally in 2010, the illegitimate Andry Rajoelina proposed his own referendum on a whole new constitution which lowered the age requirement for presidential candidates to 35 allowing himself at age 36 to run for president. It also made a new requirement that presidential candidates need to reside in the country for the six months prior to the election in order to run. This referendum was largely boycotted but still yielded a 53 percent turnout passing with 74 percent.

In each of these referendums the current president successfully advanced constitutional amendments that they claimed were needed to advance the political and economic development goals of the country but from another perspective can be construed to be simply opportunistic and strategic moves to consolidate power and centralize authority. Zafy conveniently proposes giving himself power to dismiss his prime minister amidst disagreement between the two. Ratsiraka, a cotier, does the same and more with the ability to dissolve parliament as well as creates regional autonomous provinces that can be pitted against each other and give his support base on the coast more power. Ravalomanana undoes the provinces in order to centralize power in the capital where his support base is adding to it with emergency powers and the constitutionalizing of his economic plan put forth originally during his campaign for president. Finally Andry lowers the age of president to allow himself to run, whereas he was previously ineligible. Additionally, he stipulates that presidential candidates must reside in the country previous to elections but at the same time insists that Marc should stay in exile in South Africa or face arrest upon return.

Further research is needed however, to determine what social and demographic dynamics created an environment such that these reforms were possible. Do the people really support these reforms or are they being manipulated? And how have the changes affected the people’s liberties and created even more unstable situations in which coups like the one staged in 2009 by Rajoelina are possible? These are questions I hope to be able to answer through my research in Madagascar this summer.


~ by Abraham on 1 March 2011.

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