Madagascar holds parliamentary elections Monday in what is being seen as the latest round of a bitter feud between President Andry Rajoelina and his longstanding rival Marc Ravalomanana.
Beaten to the top job in December, Ravalomanana has been everywhere to support the candidates of his TIM (“I Love Madagascar) party, determined to win what he says is “the third round” of his feud with President Rajoelina.
The two men have dominated politics since the early 2000s, sometimes cooperating but mostly fighting for advantage and high office.
“We were a bit disappointed by the result of the presidential election but we have to pick ourselves back up now,” Ravalomanana told supporters at the start of the parliamentary campaign earlier this month.
“We are winners and we are not going to let ourselves be beaten.”
Rajoelina has not been slow to respond, visiting and inaugurating projects around the country to get his message across.
“We are dedicated to working to change the lives of Madagascans and to develop our country,” he said in a tweeted message after a trip to Diego Suarez in the north last week.
The stand-off between Rajoelina and Ravalomanana runs everywhere, including in the third district of the capital of the Indian Ocean island nation.
TWO MONTHS OF STREET PROTESTS
Antananarivo’s walls are plastered with election posters, while loudspeaker trucks pass by in convoys and supporters hand out T-shirts for their candidates, bringing the capital’s streets to life.
The polls take place after another bout of instability in Madagascar which saw Rajoelina and Ravalomanana put aside their differences last year to oppose new electoral laws introduced by then president Hery Rajaonarimampianina.
After two months of street protests, the government fell and Rajaonarimampianina trailed in a distant third in the presidential election.
“I was disappointed that the leader of our party did not win the presidential election but that defeat has motivated us to win a majority in the assembly,” said TIM candidate, businessman Feno Ralambomanana.
“We need a majority to ensure stability and avoid a political war over the next five years,” says Rajoelina candidate Aina Rafenomanantsoa, a singer popularly known as Anyah.
“Madagascans have no need to go through all that again,” she says.
However, it is far from certain that Monday’s vote will produce the stability all say they want – of the 800 candidates fighting for the 151 assembly seats, nearly 500 are standing as independents.
“Independent candidates could win many seats… because a lot of voters want to break the hold of the Rajoelina and Ravalomanana camps,” political analyst Tohavina Ralambomahay told AFP.
“If there are too many independents in the assembly, that will create changeable majorities which will, in turn, generate corruption and political instability,” Ralambomahay added.
The campaign has been overshadowed in its last days by corruption allegations against more than half the outgoing deputies.
The anti-corruption bureau handed over to prosecutors a list of 79 deputies alleged to have each accepted bribes worth €12,500 ($14,000) to vote in favour of Rajaonarimampianina’s electoral laws.
Both Rajoelina and Ravalomanana have promised voters they will put an end to such practices.
The former French colony is well known for its vanilla and precious redwood, yet is one of the world’s poorest nations, according to World Bank data, with 76% of people living in extreme poverty.
The island, which is also famed for its unique wildlife, is dependent on foreign aid and has a long history of coups and unrest.