Madagascar kicks off presidential polls amid calls for boycott

Madagascar has kicked off its presidential election after a turbulent campaign period marred by boycotts and allegations of election irregularities.

Voting commenced smoothly on Thursday morning in the Indian Ocean nation, according to the AFP news agency, despite an overnight curfew and months of protests leading up to the election.

President Andry Rajoelina, a former DJ who first came to power with the backing of the army in 2009, is seeking a second consecutive term in office.

His opponents say Rajoelina should be disqualified and accuse him of waging an “institutional coup” to stay in power.

Ten key opposition candidates have called on voters to shun the elections.

They have organised street protests in the capital, Antananarivo, almost every day in recent weeks, with police dispersing many with tear gas and arresting dozens of demonstrators.

“We appeal to everyone not to vote. Conditions for a transparent presidential election, accepted by all, have not been met,” Roland Ratsiraka, one of the protesting candidates, said on Tuesday.

“We do not want to participate in this fraud, it is a joke on Madagascar.”

Rajoelina has brushed off criticism and expressed confidence that he will secure re-election in the first round of voting.

Controversial re-election bid

Madagascar has been in turmoil since media reports in June revealed Rajoelina had acquired French nationality in 2014.

Under local law, the president should have lost his Madagascan nationality, and with it, the ability to lead the country, his opponents said.

Rajoelina has denied trying to conceal his naturalisation, saying he became French to allow his children to pursue their studies abroad and that he has not been notified of any loss of his Madagascan nationality.

“The law is clear, but nobody is taking the responsibility to apply it properly,” said William Rasoanaivo, locally known as POV, an award-winning political cartoonist exiled in Mauritius.

Rajoelina’s challengers have been further angered by a ruling allowing for an ally of the president to lead the nation temporarily after Rajoelina resigned in line with the constitution to stand for re-election.

They have also complained about electoral irregularities.

“People have become aware of the dictatorship we live under,” said 55-year-old Malagasy resident Chrishani Andrianono, complaining that after 11 years in power, Rajoelina had achieved little.

“We do not see what he did for us,” he said.

Other residents said they were primarily concerned about economic challenges in what is one of the world’s poorest countries.

“What matters to us is first and foremost is getting by on a daily basis,” said Benedicte Lalaoarison, a 61-year-old underwear seller in the Analakely market in central Antananarivo.

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