Madagascar goes to polls for new Parliament

Madagascans vote on Sunday for the Indian Ocean island’s Parliament, with President Marc Ravalomanana’s party tipped to continue its domination of the Assembly.

Ravalomanana dissolved Parliament in July, saying it no longer reflected national representation after a new Constitution passed in April ended the autonomy of Madagascar’s provinces.

The new charter also enhanced Ravalomanana’s powers after he won presidential elections in December that were billed by observers as fair despite opposition protests.

The Constitutional Court, charged with overseeing elections on the world’s fourth-largest island, has cleared 637 candidates to vie for the 127 parliamentary seats, reduced from a previous 160.

Ravalomanana’s TIM (I love Madagascar) party is favoured to win a majority in the single-round election. However, a group of legislators disgruntled with the ruling party’s leadership will be running as independents, although they still support Ravalomanana as president.

”They are not serious challengers,” said Razoarimihaja Solofonantenaina, the TIM party leader, adding that there are only 20 of them.

”Our visits to the ground show that the people are with us,” said Solofonantenaina, who is also vying for a seat in the capital, Antananarivo.

Opposition parties will run under a joint platform in some constituencies, but have complained of government schemes to hamper them.

”We have difficulties defending our seats because the administration has been ordered to block the opposition,” said Pierre Houlder, secretary of the Arema party, which is fielding candidates without the approval of party founder Didier Ratsiraka, Madagascar’s former president now exiled in France.

Houlder, who did not detail the anti-opposition schemes, is touting a plan to free Madagascar’s economy similar to one backed by Ravalomanana.

The president’s ”Madagascar Action Plan” seeks to slash poverty levels by 50% and boost growth by between 8% and 10% annually by 2012.

”In less-developed countries there can be no big differences between plans. It is the execution and methods that make the difference,” Houlder said.

Nearly 70% of Madagascar’s 17-million people live in abject poverty, with the country ranked among the world’s 30 most impoverished nations in terms of human development.

Sunday’s elections will be the third time Madagascans have gone to the polls in less than a year since they gave Ravalomanana a second five-year term in December. — Sapa-AFP

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