By the end of today, Madagascar should have an elected president again, for the first time since the coup in 2009. After repeated delays and cancellations, elections went ahead last Friday and have apparently been fair. Voters are still waiting to see who has won.
It was a crowded field, with the elections starting with a grand 41 candidates and a ballot paper that looked like this:
The were two clear front-runners however. Both of them are representatives of the last two presidents, the one evicted and his self-appointed replacement, neither of whom were allowed to stand. So far it looks as though Jean-Louis Richard Robinson is the winner, representing the ousted Ravalomanana. Africa correspondents from around the world will be hoping that the man in second place doesn’t have a last minute surge, or they will have to learn how to say Hery Martial Rajaonarimampianina Rakotoarimanana on the radio.
It would be easy to think of Madagascar’s elections as an inconsequential event for most of the world, but it matters more than we think. When dictators are allowed to flourish untroubled by the international community, other dictators know that they can act with impunity. If someone can mount a coup and not be penalised for it, the next guy with enough money to buy the army will be encouraged to have a go. If you can appoint yourself president and still be hosted by international leaders, turn up the UN, or buy weapons from Western powers, what value is there in being democratically elected?
Conversely, when the world isolates undemocratic regimes and freezes out imposter presidents, it sends a message that such things won’t be tolerated. If Madagascar hosts free and fair elections, which God knows have been hard enough to organise, the global community should reward those democratic ambitions with new support.
As Jason Pack and Brian Klaas wrote in the Huffington Post last week, “Power-hungry politicians in fragile democracies pay attention to elections elsewhere. When electoral manipulation is rewarded, they do not miss the lesson. Alternatively, when sham elections are condemned, they learn a different lesson.”
Madagascar’s elections matter because the Malagasy people have fought for them, and because they could represent a big step forward in the fortunes of one of the world’s poorest countries. And ultimately, they matter because democracy matters.