[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Languages
Last Updated: Friday, 1 December 2006, 15:40 GMT
Madagascar candidates seek the right note
By Jonny Hogg
BBC News, Antananarivo

"I know why none of my supporters are here," Ny Hasina Andriamanjato, one of the 14 presidential candidates in Sunday's elections in Madagascar, told me as he looked forlornly out at a virtually empty stadium.

Some Malagasy hope the polls will lift them out of poverty.

"They've all gone to another political rally because the bands are better."

This is political campaigning, Madagascar-style.

Take several thousand brightly coloured printed t-shirts emblazoned with the smiling face of a presidential hopeful, add an array of famous Malagasy musicians, commission the biggest star you can find to rewrite one of their most popular songs to include the candidate's name and the result will be a big crowd.

That is not to say that these elections are not being taken seriously.

People here still remember the political crisis or "La Crise" as it is known, which followed the last elections in 2001.

Divisions

The former regime refused to admit defeat to President Marc Ravalomanana and the Indian Ocean island was brought to the brink of civil war.

The economy crashed and Madagascar is now the ninth poorest country in the world, with 50% of the population living on less than $1 a day.

Opposition candidate Herizo Razafimahaleo addressing a crowd
This government has pushed people to the limit
Opposition candidate Herizo Razafimahaleo

Most people here just want to avoid a repeat of the violence that so damaged the economy last time round.

Not everyone, however, seems to want a peaceful campaign.

Despite having just one language, Madagascar still suffers from deep ethnic divisions.

Mistrust between the Highlanders in and around the capital, which is the president's political stronghold, and the coastal peoples, has caused sporadic violence.

Eight of the presidential candidates have publicly supported an attempted military overthrow by an army general who believes that the elections are unconstitutional.

Brian Neubert, a political expert with the United States embassy, says that despite the desire of most Malagasy for peaceful elections, "there are some politicians who would prefer notoriety in an unstable Madagascar than being irrelevant in a stable Madagascar".

Confident

President Ravalomanana is favourite to retain power.

A successful businessman and farmer, known locally as "The Milkman" because he runs the largest dairy company in the country, he is both the richest and best known candidate.

President Marc Ravalomanana
Can President Ravalomanana "The Milkman" deliver on his promises?
One of his senior advisors, Raymond "Moxe" Ramandimbilahatra, is confident the people will vote for him again.

"President Ravalomanana is interested in the development of Madagascar. Only this. People know that under him this country can grow," he says.

Whether he can gain the 50% of votes needed to avoid a second round run-off however, is unclear.

Some critics said the polls were effectively rigged after exiled opposition leader Pierrot Rajaonarivelo was not allowed to fly into the country to register for the elections.

Other candidates, including Herizo Razafimahaleo, who is running for the third time, believe they can match the president in the polls.

He says people are most concerned about the prices of staple goods.

"This government has pushed people to the limit," he says.

"But people seem to appreciate it when they see you care about their everyday problems, and that you have solutions."

Poverty

The president has described these elections as a "model of transparency and democracy for the whole of Africa".

There will be 14,000 electoral observers, both foreign and Malagasy, monitoring the ballot.

map
Despite this, concerns remain, particularly relating to the ballot system, where every candidate must provide their own ballot sheets.

The US National Democratic Institute, who delivered a pre-election report, has recommended that this should be changed before the next presidential elections in 2011.

Monsieur Patrice, president of Malagasy electoral monitoring organisation CNOE, also warns of what he calls "possible high-level electoral fraud including phantom ballot boxes and problems with the electoral list."

Gregoire Randriamananjara, a teacher in the capital, Antananarivo, says what people really want from these elections is to get out of poverty.

"And something to eat that isn't expensive. Then we will be happy."

Despite the fiesta feel of the campaigns, the Malagasy know that it is economic growth and not free pop concerts that will improve living conditions in this beautiful but poor country.




SEE ALSO
Q & A: Madagascar election
01 Dec 06 |  Africa
Country profile: Madagascar
13 Oct 06 |  Country profiles

RELATED INTERNET LINKS
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites



FEATURES, VIEWS, ANALYSIS
Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit

PRODUCTS & SERVICES

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific