After weeks of political violence, voters on the island nation of Madagascar went to the polls on Thursday to elect a president, even though 10 of the 13 candidates called for a boycott, accusing the man they are vying to replace of unfairly tilting the process in his favor.
Most of the 30 million residents of this nation off the southeastern coast of Africa live in poverty. A series of weather-related catastrophes in recent years have damaged the country’s agricultural production, its economic mainstay, increasing the humanitarian crisis.
Madagascar is heavily reliant on foreign aid, and there are fears that a disputed election could cause some benefactors to pull back support, which “will lead the country to a chaotic situation,” said Andoniaina Ratsimamanga, a spokeswoman for the Red Cross, which is helping with the humanitarian response in Madagascar.
Political instability has been a defining feature of Madagascar’s elections over the years, and the 2018 race saw efforts by Russia to influence the outcome through the paramilitary organization the Wagner Group. It is unclear whether Russia has any involvement in this year’s election, or how much.
Since campaigning began in early October, demonstrators and security forces have clashed at political rallies and protests, where supporters of opposition candidates have been beaten, arrested and shot at with rubber bullets and tear gas while protesting an election system they believe to be rigged.
The leader of Madagascar’s National Assembly, as well as dozens of civil society organizations in the country, have called for the country’s election commission to postpone voting because of the instability. The U.N., several European countries and the United States have all raised concerns about the government’s violent crackdown of election rallies.
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