New Book by CSULB Professor Richard Marcus Expresses Little Hope for Change in Madagascar as Country Prepares to Elect a New President

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Flag of the Republic of Madagascar

Flag of the Republic of Madagascar

California State University, Long Beach (CSULB) International Studies Professor Richard Marcus brings an insider’s savvy to the politics of the island nation of Madagascar and its upcoming election in his book “The Politics of Institutional Change in Madagascar’s Third Republic.”

The former French colony has been in political crisis since the military ousted then-President Marc Ravalomanana and installed Antananarivo mayor Andry Rajoelina in March 2009.  Poverty has increased since by more than 8 percent, social sectors such as education and health care have deteriorated, infrastructure has weakened, and governance problems have been exacerbated.

Marcus had been working on a book comparing Madagascar’s water sector to Kenya’s.  “When the government of Madagascar was overthrown in 2009, the Ministry of Water and much policy was essentially vacated, putting my research into turmoil and dating my community-level data overnight,” said Marcus, director of CSULB’s Global Studies Institute and International Studies Program. “As a result of the tumult, I wrote an entirely different book, ‘The Politics of Institutional Change in Madagascar’s Third Republic.’”

The book details the rise of the institutions of the Third Republic (1992-2010), how they formed, and why they looked like models for democratic change before turning to consider, institution by institution, how the institutions themselves have been manipulated in plain sight by leaders looking to champion their own political networks.

The Madagascar constitution which ought to knit together the island nation actually impedes it, according to Marcus. “The final chapter of the book points to this pattern of inefficiency. This is a pattern that goes back before independence from the French,” he said. “The focus of this book is the republic founded in 1992. By 2010, there was a new republic and a new constitution. It made things much worse in the sense that not only does the new constitution strengthen the president even more but it is confusing. It obfuscates the main thing constitutions are supposed to do which is to distinguish between local and national government.”

Years of difficult, even harrowing, international negotiations culminated into a first round of presidential elections that were held Oct. 25.  A second and decisive round of presidential elections and legislative elections are scheduled for Dec. 20.

“I am just delighted (that elections are taking place in the country) because it is so important to Madagascar’s recovery.  But can elections bring a sea change? My conclusion is, unfortunately, no,” Marcus noted. “Madagascar has returned to its pattern of government as usual.

“Elections are important in that they bring stability, bring an end to a crisis for a profoundly exhausted Malagasy populace, and bring about a sense of normalcy.  However, the field of candidates makes clear that political networks continue to vie for power within the context of sophisticated democratic institutions,” he continued. “With one interim exception, Madagascar’s constitution has been changed by each president since the country’s independence in 1960.  The constancy is that it gives tremendous and sweeping power to the president.  I see the new leader benefiting from constitutional, democratic norms that allow him to work to his network’s benefit. It doesn’t embed democracy. It doesn’t recruit new political platforms or bring in the things we want to see that strengthen a government.”

The elections are not likely to produce significant violence but will be problematic, Marcus predicts. “The two major protagonists are both barred from running for the presidency,” he explained. “What began as more than 100 candidates was boiled down to 33. Of those, none had a national profile.

“In the first round, no one person got a majority of votes. It makes the second round hugely important. Voters are looking at the two surviving candidates and asking themselves if either one is someone they can rally around,” he pointed out.  “There is a second, more procedural, question as well.  This will be Madagascar’s first election using a single ballot system.   It has always been a multi-ballot system where each candidate produces sheets of paper for a voter to put in an election box.  The single ballot is an important improvement but is likely to create confusion; public education on voting procedures has been very scant in a poor, predominantly rural country.”

Marcus wears many hats in Madagascar.  From 2008 to 2012 he was the World Bank’s lead researcher for governance on a number of projects, serving as primary author of its seminal Madagascar Governance and Development Review.  He also served as a member of the SSRC Conflict Prevention and Peace Forum/United Nations Department of Political Affairs support team, presenting its findings to the Southern African Development Community (SADC) peace talks lead team in Maputo.

“The World Bank had nearly a $1 billion portfolio in Madagascar when the Ravalomanana government was overthrown in 2009,” Marcus said. “The World Bank’s and other donors supported key sectors in the Madagascar government.  Most of this donor funding was frozen in 2009.  My job was to lead the unpacking of the impact of the political changes down the value chain of key sectors.

“The state is not failing in Madagascar. We aren’t looking at the next Somalia. It is, however, unraveling,” he added. “The government has focused its attention on key sectors – predominantly sectors such as where there are rents.  Mining and forestry leap to mind.  As a result, some sectors that had seen important progress, such as education and health care, have suffered from a recession of not just state funding but state capacity to effectively govern.”

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