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12/20/2013

Madagascar run-off could spell better days ahead – or maybe not

Madagascar1

Richard Jean-Louis Robinson (left) squared off against Hery Martial Rakotoarimanana Rajaonarimampianina (right) in Madagascar's mainly peaceful run-off vote held Friday.

 

 

 

 

Finally: some good news from Madagascar.

Voting in Friday’s presidential run-off has been mostly peaceful, with only a few scattered incidents of violence, and foreign observers describe the process as having been both free and reliable.

That will be a welcome source of reassurance both to Malagasy people and to farther flung Madagascar-watchers, a not especially numerous breed of folk who closely follow events in the world’s second-largest island nation (surpassed in size only by Indonesia).

The truth is that few people in other countries pay a great deal of attention to the news in Madagascar. Many would likely have trouble locating the place on a map.

Just for the record, Madagascar is that very large, insular mass of land rising above the Indian Ocean off the southeastern coast of Africa.

Formerly a French colony, Madagascar has been independent since 1960. It is probably best known around the world as almost the sole remaining natural home for lemurs, a range of primates found nowhere else on Earth except the nearby Comoros Islands.

But lemurs are only the beginning, for Madagascar is a treasure trove of biological and botanical diversity. At least 90 per cent of its plants and animals exist nowhere else on the planet. Mainland Africa, for example, has just one variety of baobab tree, that thick-trunked behemoth (and stirring symbol of the continent) that looks as if it’s growing upside-down. Madagascar has eight.

Sadly, almost all of the island’s endemic species are disappearing at an alarming rate, hapless victims of human encroachment upon their habitat.

But back to Friday’s vote – a second-round run-off that was rendered necessary after neither of the front-running candidates managed to gain more than 50 per cent of the vote in last October’s initial round.

As a result, they had to go at it again this month.

Actually, to call the two men “candidates” is at least somewhat misleading, considering that both of them are stand-ins for someone else.

Former health minister Richard Jean-Louis Robinson is a surrogate for Marc Ravalomanana, who was the country’s duly elected president until his 2009 overthrow by current president Andry Rajoelina.

In turn, Rajoelina was represented in Friday’s vote by a stalking horse of his own, a man by the somewhat challenging name of Hery Martial Rakotoarimanana Rajaonarimampianina.

Both Ravalomanana, the ousted president, and Rajoelina, the incumbent, were barred from participating directly in the recently completed vote.

The conflict between the two men has resulted in four years of sporadic bloodshed and ongoing economic stagnation for the country of 22 million.

Whoever becomes president now, here’s hoping that things get better soon.

Oakland Ross is a foreign affairs reporter for the Toronto Star.

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