Huge street protests and a two-week general strike have shut banks and businesses in many parts of Madagascar.
Over 1.5 million people, one in ten of the island's entire population, were on the streets. The agitation was sparked by electoral fraud. But the real question is the poverty of the people. In the early part of this month around half a million people demonstrated daily on the streets of the capital, Antananarivo.
They were demanding the resignation of the president, Didier Ratsiraka. Ratsiraka rigged the results of the 16 December presidential election. Opposition leader Marc Ravalomanana, the mayor of Antananarivo, is believed to have won 52 percent of the vote. The demonstrations began when the island's High Constitutional Court said that 'after a recount' Ravalomanana had won 46 percent of the vote, against 40 percent for Ratsiraka.
As neither candidate had an overall majority, the court ordered a second round of voting. Madagascar is an island off the east coast of Africa. Ratsiraka ruled Madagascar from 1975 to 1991. He began by proclaiming himself a supporter of 'socialist revolution from above' but very quickly accepted an IMF austerity programme. He was removed when he lost the support of the army, but was then returned to power in the elections of 1996.
Around 70 percent of the population live below the poverty line. Yet both the main candidates offer nothing but more IMF-style 'liberalisation' and pro-business policies. Ravalomanana, a top businessman, is nervous about protests going beyond his control.
The US government is sniffing around Madagascar. There are theories that the US is preparing to site a naval base there in case it loses Diego Garcia. The British, French and US governments were manoeuvring this week to secure a deal between the two candidates to come to an agreement to restore 'stability'.