Photograph — Orange

Madagascar’s High Constitutional Court on Tuesday declared former leader, Andry Rajoelina winner of the country’s bitterly contested presidential elections, rejecting all complaints filed over the results. The newly elected president, who will be sworn in later this month, has a huge job on his shoulders, as severe economic challenges dampen the island nation.

Rajoelina, who previously served as president from 2009 to 2014, won with more than 55 percent of the vote in the nation’s runoff election last month. While his main challenger, former President Marc Ravalomanana, received more than 44 percent, the court revealed. The announcement is based on results compiled by the nation’s electoral commission and comes after a review of fraud claims filed by Ravalomanana since the end of vote count last month.

Just over 48 percent of the country’s 10 million registered voters cast their ballots in the vote. “The victory is not only mine. It is also the victory of Malagasy people,” Rajoelina told supporters at his Young Malagasies Determined party’s headquarters. “I’m the president of all the Malagasy,” he added, “They chose patriotism and development. … Now let’s get to work for Madagascar!”

Election Fraud claims

Millionaire businessman Ravalomanana, who previously led the country from 2002 to 2009 before being overthrown in a coup by Rajoelina, had denounced the runoff results, alleging massive fraud on election day and during vote-counting. He filed more than 200 petitions and complaints with the court, and his supporters have recently held protests in Antananarivo, the capital.

Ravalomanana received 35.35 percent of the vote in the first round, with Rajoelina scooping 39.23 percent. The pair’s vote share dwarfed that of the country’s most recent president, Hery Rajaonarimampianina, who received just 8.82 percent support. As stated by Al Jazeera, both candidates spent heavily on campaigning, with promises and handouts distributed liberally to voters, who are among the poorest in Africa.

The poor state of Madagascar

Despite being the leading global producer of vanilla and a major exporter of Sapphire gems to the international market, more than 76 percent of Malagasy live in extreme poverty, subsisting on less than $2 a day. The United Nations Human Development Index – which measures health, education and economic performance – ranks Madagascar 161st out of 189 countries. The island, which is also famed for its unique wildlife, is dependent on foreign aid and burdened by a long history of coups and unrest with increasing insecurity largely caused by poverty and high unemployment levels.

Agriculture, the main source of income for most people, is vulnerable to regular weather-related disasters such as tropical storms, flooding and drought. The sector is also constrained by low productivity due to the minimal use of modern farming techniques, lack of connectivity to markets to facilitate the transportation of goods, and high vulnerability to climatic fluctuations. Rural households have minimal off-farm income generating activities to help buffer the impact of weather shocks, and the country has one of the lowest rates of financial inclusion in Africa.

Inclusive growth is vital

While the economy is projected by the World Bank to continue expanding over the medium-term, there is a need to focus on inclusive growth to reduce poverty. The projected growth of the economy means that the Malagasy population living under the poverty line is likely to decrease. The poverty headcount is expected to decrease from 75 percent in 2018 to 73 percent in 2020.

Increasing access to the financial system for members of the population who are currently unbanked will allow individuals to save and transfer money more securely, improve economic inclusion, and provide opportunities for greater access to credit to start or grow small businesses. Thus allowing the poor to benefit from this growth. Also, there should be more resources available to deliver public services such as education, health and public infrastructures in rural areas.

While the country pins its hopes for development on mining and tourism, it remains to be seen if the newly announced president has what it takes to promote the growth of a nation regarded as one of the poorest in the world.

Andry Nirina Rajoelina, a former nightclub DJ and ex-mayor of Antananarivo, is a Malagasy businessman and politician. He started his career in the private sector, first organizing events on the Island, and then investing the advertising business and the media. He was the Mayor of Antananarivo from December 2007 to February 2009, and President of the High Transitional Authority (HAT) of Madagascar from 21 March 2009 to 25 January 2014, up until the general elections were held in 2013. After stepping down as President of the HAT, he remained head of the majority party, ran for the 2018 presidential election in Madagascar, and won the second round’s polls.

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