Emerging trend of chaotic polls in Southern Africa


Madagascan President Andry Rajoelina. Photo by EDUARDO SOTERAS / AFP)

from MARIO RAJOMAZANDRY in Antananarivo, Madagascar
Madagascar Bureau
ANTANANARIVO, (CAJ News) – PERHAPS to avoid another quarrel with another member state, the Southern African Development Community Electoral Observer Mission (SEOM) to Madagascar has refrained from “rendering comprehensive and conclusive recommendations or qualifications of the election at this stage.

In August, the mission’s scathing verdict on the elections in Zimbabwe sparked a diplomatic fallout between that country and Zambia (and by extension SADC), which led the election observer team.

Tensions remain between the two neighbouring countries.

Meanwhile, Madagascar is a ticking time bomb ahead of the inauguration of president-elect, Andry Rajoelina, following an election that most opposition candidates boycotted and whose conduct the regional observer mission nonetheless criticised.

The brewing crisis poses a fresh headache for the 16-member SADC.

This region was for years lauded as the most peaceful but the bloc lately has a lot to contend with, including poorly-handled elections.

Besides elections that have been a source of trouble Madagascar and Zimbabwe, Mozambique are enduring their own electoral crises after municipal polls were allegedly rigged.

All these occurred in the second half of 2023.

That excludes elections in the troubled Eswatini, where political parties were banned 50 years ago and the king is a dominant figure.

The Supreme Court last Friday confirmed Rajoelina (49) as the winner of the divisive polls with around 59 percent of the November 16 vote.

“The choice of the people in power is sacred,” he said.

“The masses have given me confidence in leading Madagascar again in the next five years.”

The youngest head of state in the region faces a major credibility challenge.  Ten opposition candidates who boycotted the election have announced that they would not recognize the results.

They have vowed to continue protest action, which characterised preparations for the elections in the largest island in the Indian Ocean.

Another credibility conundrum comes from the SEOM criticizing the conduct of the elections.

Tensions between Rajoelina’s ruling Young Malagasies Determined (YMG) are at an all time high ahead of the inauguration at the Barea Mahamasina Stadium in Antananarivo.

The capital city has for months now been the site of clashes between opposition parties and state security personnel.

Amid protests across the country and increased security posture nationwide brewing, things can only get worse.

“The potential for clashes with security forces is elevated,” said a security expert.

He mentioned state security would maintain heightened security in main urban centres along key thoroughfares and near government buildings, especially in Antananarivo.

Security measures in the lead up to the elections include roadblocks, checkpoints, and searches of vehicles and pedestrians.

Measures may also affect air travel at Ivato International Airport (TNR).

A similar curfew to that imposed ahead of the first round of polls may be reinstated to deter violence or in the event of significant unrest while officials may also impose additional restrictive measures, such as internet shutdowns.

SADC was scathing of the August elections in Zimbabwe, sparking a diplomatic fallout between that country and Zambia, which leads the SADC election observer team.

Perhaps concerned at another fallout with a member state, SEOM said it will not be “rendering comprehensive and conclusive recommendations or qualifications of the election at this stage.”

However, it raised several concerns that portray the election as lacking credibility.

The 62-member observer team noted concern around the participation of Rajoelina eligibility to stand as a candidate. This is after he acquired French citizenship.

The mission stated it took note of concerns from stakeholders in relation to the credibility of the voters roll.

The concern was that there were major discrepancies and irregularities in the voters roll as it did not capture the youths, thereby excluding a significant segment of that population, in a country of over 30 million.

SEOM observed that election materials in some places were transported by motorcycles and bicycles without any security escort while some of the materials were stored in undesignated facilities.

The SADC mission noted concerns in relation to the budget of the Independent National Electoral Commission(CENI, locally).

The stakeholders believed that CENI did not have enough funds to organise credible elections.

Lazarous Kapambwe, serving as Alternate Head of the SEOM, SADC shall, therefore, remain actively engaged with the unfolding processes and ensure that it renders all the necessary support to address any outstanding issues.

“In the event of any electoral disputes and grievances, the Mission appeals to all concerned parties to channel their concerns through established legal procedures and processes,” the diplomat appealed.

Instability has rocked Madagascar, a country roughly the size of Ukraine, since independence from France in 1960.

Media entrepreneur, Rajoelina, previously led in 2009 to 2014 following a political crisis and military-backed coup.

– CAJ News



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