Political change in Madagascar: Populist democracy or neopatrimonialism by another name?


Madagascar ’s political space is defined by the country`s social movements. This is in contrast to many African states which have been shaped by a history of domination by "big men". In the case of Madagascar, no leader has had as much influence on the nature of the political system, or its dynamics, as the anti-colonial uprising of 1947, the military`s dissolution of the First Republic in 1972, the strikes of 1991, or the populist support for “democracy” that Balkanised the country in 2002. Former President Didier Ratsiraka was the single largest figure in Malagasy politics from 1975 to 1992, yet the nature of his rule was defined by the events of 1972 and the way he came to office, just as the administration of Madagascar’s first president, Philibert Tsirinana, was defined by what had happened in 1947 and Zafy Albert’s 1993-96 presidency was defined by the events of 1991.

The pattern appears to continue, but with an interesting twist: President Marc Ravalomanana created the 2002 uprising that brought him to power, but this event, in turn, has now come to define him. This paper examines the formation of the Third Republic in 1992 in a historical context, and the events leading up to the crisis of 2002, before turning to consider the efforts of Marc Ravalomanana and the new government since. The paper concludes by offering a tentative answer to the question in considering whether Madagascar has gone through a momentous change in the nature of its democracy or whether it has given birth to a new incarnation of neopatrimonial rule in which the president’s office is used more for personal gain than public benefit.


Dr Richard R. Marcus is Lecturer at the Department of Political Science, Yale University and Assistant Professor at the University of Alabama in Huntsville.

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