Thursday, March 21, 2019
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Wealthy Madagascar candidates woo skeptical voters trapped by poverty


No matter who wins Madagascar’s presidential election next week, Soloniaina Rakotomamonjy wants the victor to bring jobs to a country shackled by poverty despite immense resource wealth.

In an irony in one of Africa’s poorest countries, the result of the first round of voting could hinge in part on which of the three front-runners — all wealthy men — has spent the most money campaigning for the Nov. 7 contest.

Rakotomamonjy, 20, does odd jobs in construction and works at a roadside open-air restaurant when the owner has enough business to hire extra staff.

He will vote in the Indian Ocean island nation’s election on Wednesday, he says, for the first time in his life because he wants to participate and “make the choice like everyone else”.

Like many other young Malagasy, he says, he wants a leader who “can change the lives of young people” by creating jobs.

He is not holding his breath.

“I just have to keep working as many jobs as I can find in order to get by,” he said, heading back to the building site where he had already been at work for four hours by 8 a.m. one morning this week.

In the run-up to the poll the three leading candidates have toured the country making electoral promises that many voters don’t expect them to keep: The three are President Hery Rajaonarimampianina and his two main challengers, both former heads of state themselves: Marc Ravalomanana and Andry Rajoelina.

Handing out sacks of rice and t-shirts, the top candidates have hired helicopters for many thousands of dollars a day to sidestep the problem of rundown roads across the country, famed for its exotic wildlife and luxury vanilla spice.

Though relative political stability since a 2013 election has enabled the economy to rebound, the country of 25 million people remains among Africa’s poorest. About 80 percent of the population lives on less than $2 per day.

Unemployment is under two percent, official statistics show, but a 2015 government study found that “disguised unemployment” was at least 20 percent and underemployment was rampant.

Though there are 36 candidates on the ballot, only two could advance to a possible run-off on Dec. 19.

The three front-runners are wealthy and have been repeatedly accused by local civil society groups of having used their time in office to enrich themselves.


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