African island nation Madagascar held parliamentary elections on Monday, despite many of the country's politicians being embroiled in a major corruption scandal.
In the past two weeks, Madagascar’s anti-corruption bureau has begun legal proceedings against almost half of the country’s outgoing parliamentarians, following a year-long investigation. At least 79 MPs are accused of taking bribes in return for votes, and those convicted could face up to five years in prison.
The scandal poses a challenge for new president Andry Rajoelina, who defeated his predecessor, Hery Rajaonarimampianina, in an election last December.
Mr Rajoelina, the head of the Tanora malaGasy Vonona (Determined Malagasy Youth) party, had previously led the country between 2009 and 2014, after leading a coup against his longstanding rival Marc Ravalomanana, who leads the TIM ("I Love Madagascar") party.
We were a bit disappointed by the result of the presidential election, but we have to pick ourselves back up now
"This is a test for the new president as he has a lot of projects ahead. He will need a landslide majority at the parliament, so we don't know if he will get that or not," said Amir Antoy, a Malagasy translator based in the capital Antananarivo. "People care about infrastructure, like road construction, food prices and healthcare. Social issues are what people care about the most here."
“We were a bit disappointed by the result of the presidential election, but we have to pick ourselves back up now,” Mr Ravalomanana said earlier this month, while campaigning. “We are winners and we are not going to let ourselves be beaten.” Mr Ravalomanana was also a candidate in the presidential election.
Madagascans remain highly suspicious of politics, with many interviewed by The Irish Times saying they believed an outbreak of the bubonic plague in 2017 was a false scare created either by the government or opposition, in a bid to gain power ahead of elections.
Last year, Mr Rajaonarimampianina’s attempt to reform the electoral laws led to two months of protests, and some deaths. The changes would have stopped Mr Ravalomanana, a rival, from running.
Three-quarters of its people live below the poverty line, and one in two children suffer from stunting because of poor nutrition
Known internationally for its vanilla production and unique biodiversity, Madagascar gained independence from France in 1960, but development since has been slow. It is heavily dependent on foreign aid, yet staff of international charities complain fundraising is hampered by the fact that the Indian Ocean island nation has almost no geo-strategic importance.
Three-quarters of its people live below the poverty line, and one in two children suffer from stunting because of poor nutrition. Only 13 per cent of people have access to electricity, according to the World Bank – one of the lowest percentages of any country in the world.
Corruption is rife. Madagascar is ranked 152 of 180 countries globally in Transparency International’s annual anti-corruption perceptions index.
Hery Rason, the executive director of Ivorary, an NGO that works on governance issues, told The Irish Times he worries Madagascans base their votes on how famous a politician is, rather than analysing their policies.
There continue to be a lot of problems in the way the country is run, Mr Rason said. “Prior to drafting laws, I think that they must focus on solving the dysfunction within the institution. Reduce the impunity of deputies,” he said. “We hope for a more accountable, transparent parliament.”