Do I hear Election Bells Ringing?
A right not a law
From the moment we open our eyes in the morning until our heads hit that pillow again at sundown, we are to “make choices”. Our decisions determine the outcome of our day and in a much larger picture our lives, even affecting the lives of others. While voting is not a law, it is a right, a nationally and internationally recognized fundamental human right. This right is entrenched in article 6 of the Malagasy Constitution, whereby sovereignty belongs to the people and is exercised by way of electing in a universal and equal suffrage, the people’s representatives, our leaders. Madagascar’s Constitution further reflects its commitment to enforce the right to vote in international treaties and conventions, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted unanimously by the UNGA in 1948, in its article 21 and the African (Banjul) Charter on Human and People’s Rights. Clearly, you and I can choose to exercise this right when D-day comes this year. Unless, 6 years of so-called transitional government turns into 7, will it be our Deliverance or Dooms day?
Change oh change
A general desire for “change" fervently infiltrated the sphere of global politics since the 2008 US elections; even France, ever critical of "les Yankees" was flooded with "Le Changement c’est maintenant" during the 2012 presidential race. Ironically, François Hollande armored with this slogan and a socialist party candidate was elected.
In 2009, I had the opportunity to be invited to the Presidential inauguration with a group of young international scholars. We came from all corners of the World to witness the impact of a voice, a vote, as President Barak Obama took oath publicly at the symbolic U.S Capitol. All equal, at least for a few hours, men and women; some in fur others wrapped in newspaper proudly waved their flags. I met young Republicans in tears of joy, bursting with enthusiasm and solidarity as America welcomed its new leader. That day represented the power of a vote, Republican or Democrat; they chose to exercise their right, their voice. Finding myself in a sea of American flags, the solidarity was contagious and I secretly hoped to one day witness such solidarity in my country.
Belief and desire for change was ever more fervent in 2012 when Americans from all walks of life emerged from every corner to encourage each other to vote. The 2012 US election was a golden year of youth and minority votes; it was the first time that Latinos made up of 10% of voters and young voters made up of the largest percentage ever, including in the 2008 presidential election representing 19%. Needless to say, they were President Obama’s anchor both in 2008 and 2012, where 66% of the votes of 18-24 and 25-29 year-olds in 2008.
Certainly, Madagascar’s social, political and economic status is not comparable to the U.S. Let’s just say, we are on different wave lengths. But a nation is a nation of people with rights. When the next president takes oath, shouldn’t we feel as if we had an impact on the future of our country?
Turning point, may be?
As for Madagascar, the change fever surfaced in early 2009 in the form of a protests against the then President Ravalomanana. Forced to resign from office, Rajoelina then seized power and, with other leaders, formed an interim transitional government, the High Transitional Authority (HAT). The symbolism that accompanied these events is memorable, the power of the people to represent their political stance on the emblematic 13th of May square. What followed unfortunately was and remains a volatile political instability. The interim HAT is not so interim anymore, 6 years down the line. Malagasy’s lives are marked with an increase in disparities where even the middle class slipped slowly into much lower standard of living. Madagascar’s already long lasting enemy known as poverty deepened its grasp on the country substantially. Let us not be in denial or be fooled by the expensive cars, large properties and luxury shopping centres. The average Malagasy cannot afford any of that. In fact, the World Bank, poverty assessment estimates 70% fall within the category of “poor” and 59 % extremely poor.
Three little words: credible, free, fair
In an ideal world, credible, free and fair elections remains Madagascar’s perhaps only route to political stability and some form of democracy, if that is our shared vision of course. Unfortunately, past experiences have shown how the integrity of the electoral process was under siege by corruption and political manipulations. Will this be the case again in the up-coming elections? In his general observation of electoral processes in Africa, noted Professor Richard Joseph stated that “governments facing the prospects of a peaceful dismissal by the people can allow the doors of democracy to open further but such governments can also seek to slam them shut.”
Will doors of democracy be shut in the upcoming elections?
Indeed, the element of transparency is an essential factor in any decision making. Yet, already the credibility of the electoral special court (CES) was scrutinized when it was to decide on the fate of Lalao Ravalomana, wife of the ousted former President Marc Ravalomanana and Andry Rajoelina, President of the HAT to feature on the list of candidate. How far do we trust the CES in shaping up the list of over 40 candidates? “The” list that is the basis of our choice and will determine Madagascar’s destiny.
Will you be my hero?
While the situation remains volatile, I do believe the general feeling is that in search for a solution. Looking at the list of candidates it seems that everyone “wants” to be the hero. If we are left with the current list of candidates and Election Day becomes a reality, the months leading up to it will be a time to familiarize ourselves with the candidates’ agenda and start our decision making process. I confess that I am searching for political elites who match their commitment to promote the development of Malagasy people’s lives. By development I do not mean exploitation of Malagasy’s natural resources supposedly to generate euro, dollar, dollar bills, money money, money. I mean, ideally, having within their overall goal the interests of the Malagasy individual to flourish in a political, economically and socially stable island.
So where do we stand? Certainly tired of waiting for a sign of stability. Will you act, cast your vote when and if that Election Day ever comes? This generation of youth represents one of the most influential, diverse, and socially progressive generations in our history as we have experienced throughout the period of the transitional government. The youth are engaged and taking part in Madagascar’s political debate as advocates and leaders but it is not just about young voters. It is about voters of all ages. Every Malagasy equipped with the right to vote. I shall not suggest who to vote for or why, simply because it all comes down to what you envision Madagascar’s future to be. There will be no perfect President but remember your voice will determine Madagascar’s future.
First time writing on Pakysse for my Malagasy brothers and sisters.