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Presidential elections-2018 in Madagascar: a diary of monitoring mission

12.11.2018
I was fortunate to take part along with AFRIC in the election monitoring mission in Madagascar, which took place on 7th of November.
36 international observers from all over the world represented AFRIC election monitoring mission at this milestone in Madagascar. Why was it a milestone?
After the political and economic crisis of 2001 and 2009, the Malagasy state counterpoised some stability and economic growth. Reports from IMF (International Monetary Fund) and the World Bank show that the current economic situation is quite favorable. That's why the choice of the Malagasy people is more important now than ever.

In addition, 9 million voters (according to the data published by CENI (Commission électorale nationale indépendante – Independent National Electoral Commission), had to choose among the 36 candidates during the first round. The second round of the election will be held on December 19, if none of the candidates secured up to 50% of the votes or only 2 leading candidates emerge.

Though this was not my first experience as an election observer, it was first experience as an election observer in Madagascar.

I visited the capital, Antananarivo, in August for the International Economic Forum where several candidates presented their economic programs, with the fight against poverty at the top of all their agendas.

November 4: arrival at Antananarivo.

It was late at night when 3 observers and I landed at the Ivato Airport. It was very hot despite the late hour. We went through the customs and all the paperwork. We were offered free visas by the Malagasy government for the purposes of carrying out our election monitoring mission.

It was four o’clock in the morning when we arrived at the hotel. The dawn was calm and picturesque… Several teams of observers were already leaving the hotel to continue their journey to the remote areas of the capital. It was the first time in my life to see breakfast served at that early morning.

November 5

The next day was the first day of preparatory work and the meeting with other team members who continued to arrive at Antananarivo.

We participated at the press conference together with the CIS-CMO monitoring team where the journalists asked a lot of questions about observation missions, elections, exit pool concepts, etc.

In the evening we met all members of the AFRIC team to discuss the planning of mission activities, distribution of official badges, equipment, etc.

Between the two events I took advantage of 1hour 30minutes to go out in the city. It was not enough for a full visit, but sufficient to make first acquaintance with the surroundings of the hotel. This part of the city still has some evidence of colonial heritage; beautiful buildings in distinguished style of colonization era, names of hotels or old bakeries and shops … and especially taxis, that are early models of Renault, Peugeot and Citroën. There is a lot of illegal trade on the streets, ill-nourished, dirty, but smiling kids playing on the street…

November 6

A visit to the CENI (Independent National Electoral Commission) hosted lecture organized by CENI for safety instructions. A representative of the Gendarmerie talked about the current situation in Madagascar and explained all the efforts that were made to ensure safety of citizens and observers during the electoral process not only in the capital, but also in the regions.

In my judgment, from security standpoint, Madagascar has been well prepared for the Election Day. Several national police patrols, gendarmerie and military forces dispatched to every street in the capital.

In the afternoon I went to the downtown. My goal was to visit the market, which is close to the train station, and climb the hill with a church on top of it, which I noticed a few times from the train station during the trip.

Around the streets the market looks very touristy with typical souvenirs  stalls… stamps with images of lemurs (or maki), wooden airplane models, bags and leather wallets … But at the back, there is second-hand clothing … as I understood, it is  humanitarian aid on sale now by the Malagasy … No statistical data could give you this impression and feel of real poverty… The capital is flooded by markets … dirty and poor. We were the only two “vazahas” (that’s how Malagasy call the foreigners).

We bought a maki toy and went up the hill to visit the church. This time we ate zebu meat (common as сattle in Madagascar) at the restaurant of a hotel, picked out of thin air. The price was 2 times cheaper than at our hotel, while the quality of food was the same. To complete our sightseeing and cultural visit to the city, we took a Renault taxi of the 40s to return to the hotel. In the evening we also visited several voting stations to check how the preparations were going on, whether there was equipment, staff, etc. First, we visited the voting stations located in front of CENI. At 4 pm none of the 12 voting stations was ready. We met one of the Presidents of the voting stations who assured us that installation of equipment would start at 6 pm. At 6:30 pm we noted that just at 2 out of 12 voting stations equipment was being installed: voting booths, water, etc. We started to investigate because the opening hour for voting stations was set at 6 o’clock in the morning. We took several pictures for our report.

November 7

The D-Day. We had breakfast at 4 am and left for the mission at 5 am.  

The first voters are already present at the entrance to the voting station at 5:30 am. Yet, several voting stations were still closed. Members of one voting station started installing ballot boxes, booths, making voters lists of electors and ballots. Finally, it was noted, that the urn was not sealed. The Commission did not know how to close the ballot box, so we helped in closing the urns before the first voter entered the station. Actual opening was at 6:30 am with the entrance of the first voter. The commission wasted a lot of time finishing preparation of ballot papers, which should have been done the day before…

At 7 am all 12 voting stations that were installed at the Public Primary School 67 HA NORD were open. One had to wait from 10 to 30 minutes in the queue to enter a voting station. Voters explained that the main issue was with voters’ lists that were too long, and it took time to find the right name. It should also be noted that ink on the printed lists was too light for reading, and there was a deficit of light or electricity at each voting station.

At 12 noon, approximately 50% of the voters from the voters’ lists gave their votes. The voting rate was rather high at all 19 voting stations that we visited. The vote count started with a delay at each voting station. At 5:52 pm, the commission finally began counting. Voting stations based at EPP Antanimena 2, despite the presence of police representatives, remained open to the public. People who were neither members of commission, nor members of CENI, nor observers, continued to enter the voting station… an absolute anarchy (or absolute democracy?). It was impossible to stop them. Finally, approximately 100 people remained at the voting station, monitoring the count and trying to participate in the decisions made by the commission. Nevertheless, no serious problems or scandals were registered. Everyone screamed when each vote was counted …there were two leaders from the beginning of the counting, the 13th and the 25th candidate. The result at this polling station was: 180 votes for the 13th candidate and 137 votes for the 25th. The other candidates were shy of 26 votes.

Although the count was fairly transparent and without major violations, observers and representatives of the candidates signed the statement of alleged violations on behalf of the President of CENI, because an urn was not properly closed with the seals.

At 9 pm a copy of the minutes of the commission was obtained.

November 8

The net day, we rested until the afternoon, when a press conference concerning monitoring results took place. Most of us discovered some violations that took place on the voting day at voting stations we observed. The reports of each observer were prepared with all the detail and transmitted to CENI. Nevertheless, the elections were quiet and the voting rate was high enough. Now, we are waiting for the official results from CENI to be announced by November 28th latest.

November 9, departure day

The whole day was spent in the preparations for the departure and, especially, saying our good-byes.  Our team members dispatched to different parts of the world. It was a very sad moment for every one of us, for we had become a real family during the time we worked together.

Today, November 12, the CENI published a national recap of the presidential elections (unofficial) according to which it had already processed the minutes of 10818 among 24852 polling stations, that is: 43.53%. According to the recapitulation: blank and null ballots – 7.52%, votes cast – 92.48%, total voter turnout – 53.72%. There are two absolute leaders among the candidates: Andry RAJOELINA (No. 13) with 39.31%, and Marc RAVALOMANANA (No.25) with 36.60%, indicating a high probability for the second round to come. The country holds its breath.

By Catherine T

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