The Second Republic, 1975-92

Madagascar Table of Contents

Ratsiraka was elected to a seven-year term as president in a national referendum on December 21, 1975, confirming the mandate for consensus and inaugurating Madagascar's Second Republic. The guiding principle of Ratsiraka's administration was the need for a socialist "revolution from above." Specifically, he sought to radically change Malagasy society in accordance with programs and principles incorporated into the Charter of the Malagasy Socialist Revolution, popularly referred to as the "Red Book" (Boky Mena). According to this document, the primary goal of the newly renamed Democratic Republic of Madagascar was to build a "new society" founded on socialist principles and guided by the actions of the "five pillars of the revolution": the SRC, peasants and workers, young intellectuals, women, and the Popular Armed Forces. "The socialist revolution," explains the Red Book, "is the only choice possible for us in order to achieve rapid economic and cultural development in an autonomous, humane, and harmonious manner." The Red Book advocated a new foreign policy based on the principle of nonalignment, and domestic policies focused on renovating the fokonolona, decentralizing the administration, and fomenting economic development through rigorous planning and popular input.

Several early policies collectively decided by Ratsiraka and other members of the SRC set the tone of the revolution from above. The first major SRC decision was to bring the French-held sectors of the economy under government control. This "economic decolonization" was welcomed by nationalists, who long had clamored for economic and cultural independence from France. The government also lifted martial law but retained rigid press censorship. Finally, the SRC ordered the closure of an earth satellite tracking station operated by the United States as part of its commitment to nonaligned foreign relations.

Political consolidation proceeded apace following the addition of ten civilians to the SRC in January 1976. This act constituted the beginning of a civil-military partnership in that the SRC became more representative of the country's major political tendencies and ethnic communities. In March the Vanguard of the Malagasy Revolution (Antokin'ny Revolisiona Malagasy--Arema) was founded as the government party, and Ratsiraka became its secretary general. In sharp contrast to the single-party states created by other African Marxist leaders, Arema served as simply one (albeit the most powerful) member of a coalition of six parties united under the umbrella of the National Front for the Defense of the Revolution (Front National pour la Défense de la Révolution--FNDR). Membership in the FNDR, necessary for participation in the electoral process, was preconditioned on party endorsement of the revolutionary principles and programs contained in the Red Book.

Ratsiraka and Arema clearly dominated the political system. In the fokonolona elections held in March 1977, for example, Arema captured 90 percent of 73,000 contested seats in 11,400 assemblies. In June 1977, Arema won 220 out of a total of 232 seats in elections for six provincial general assemblies, and 112 out of a total of 137 seats in the Popular National Assembly. This trend toward consolidation was most vividly demonstrated by Rasiraka's announcement of his 1977 cabinet in which Arema members held sixteen of eighteen ministerial posts.

Yet, less than three years after taking power, Ratsiraka's regime was confronted with growing popular disenchantment. As early as September 1977, antigovernment demonstrations erupted in Antananarivo because of severe shortages in foodstuffs and essential commodities. This trend intensified as the economy worsened under the weight of ill-conceived economic policies that gradually centralized government control over the key sectors of the economy, including banking and agriculture. Ratsiraka defiantly adopted authoritarian tactics in response to the evolving opposition, sending in the armed forces to stifle dissent and maintain order during student riots in May 1978. In the economic realm, however, Ratsiraka accepted the free-market reforms demanded by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in order to ensure an infusion of foreign assistance vital to keeping the economy functioning. Whereas Ratsiraka's drift toward authoritarianism provided his enemies with political cannon fodder, his economic reforms led them to charge him with abandoning "scientific socialism" and alienated his traditional base of political supporters, as well.

The results of presidential elections within the de facto single-party framework that prevailed throughout the Second Republic clearly demonstrated Ratsiraka's declining political fortunes. Widespread initial enthusiasm for his socialist revolution from above secured him nearly 95 percent of the popular vote in the 1975 presidential elections, but support declined to 80 percent in 1982 and to only 63 percent in 1989. The year of 1989 marked a special turning point in that the fall of the Berlin Wall heralded the intellectual death of singleparty rule in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union and similarly transformed electoral politics in Africa. In the case of Madagascar, increasingly vocal opposition parties denounced what they and international observers considered massive fraud in the 1989 presidential election, including Ratsiraka's refusal to update outdated voting lists that excluded the anti-Ratsiraka youth vote and the stuffing of ballot boxes at unmonitored rural polling stations. Massive demonstrations against Ratsiraka's inauguration led to violent clashes in Antananarivo that, according to official figures, left seventy-five dead and wounded.

Popular discontent with the Ratsiraka regime heightened on August 10, 1991, when more than 400,000 citizens marched peacefully on the President's Palace in order to oust the Ratsiraka government and create a new multiparty political system. Ratsiraka already faced an economy crippled by a general strike that had begun in May, as well as a divided and restless military whose loyalty no longer could be assumed. When the Presidential Guard opened fire on the marchers and killed and wounded hundreds, a crisis of leadership occurred.

The net result of these events was Ratsiraka's agreement on October 31, 1991 to support a process of democratic transition, complete with the formulation of a new constitution and the holding of free and fair multiparty elections. Albert Zafy, the central leader of the opposition forces and a côtier of the Tsimihety ethnic group, played a critical role in this transition process and ultimately emerged as the first president of Madagascar's Third Republic. The leader of the Comité des Forces Vives (Vital Forces Committee, known as Forces Vives), an umbrella opposition group composed of sixteen political parties that spearheaded the 1991 demonstrations, Zafy also emerged as the head of what became known as the High State Authority, a transitional government that shared power with the Ratsiraka regime during the democratization process.

A new draft constitution was approved by 75 percent of those voting in a national referendum on August 19, 1992. The first round of presidential elections followed on November 25. Frontrunner Zafy won 46 percent of the popular vote as the Forces Vives candidate, and Ratsiraka, as leader of his own newly created progovernment front, the Militant Movement for Malagasy Socialism (Mouvement Militant pour le Socialisme Malgache--MMSM), won approximately 29 percent of the vote. The remaining votes were split among a variety of other candidates. Because neither candidate obtained a majority of the votes cast, a second round of elections between the two frontrunners was held on February 10, 1993. Zafy emerged victorious with nearly 67 percent of the popular vote.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress