Recently scholars have pointed to the increase in presidential impeachment votes. For example, Leiv Marsteintredet and Einar Berntzen in Comparative Politics (41:1, 2008) discussed how impeachment has been used in Latin America to ‘resolve’ crises between the executive and the legislature. When the two institutions are deadlocked, the legislature votes to dismiss the president. This is a solution to the problem of temporal rigidity that Linz first identified and that is brought about by fixed presidential terms. Mariana Llanos and Leiv Mainstentredet followed up this idea in 2010 in an edited volume with a number of case studies. Aníbal Pérez-Liñán also published a book on the topic in the same year.
In Madagascar presidential impeachment has already been used once before to dismiss the head of state. In September 1996 President Albert Zafy was removed from office by a combination of the National Assembly and the country’s highest court. There is a nice resume of these events in the edited book by Jody C. Baumgartner and Naoko Kada on presidential impeachments in comparative perspective. In the last few weeks it looked as if history in Madagascar was about to repeat itself in this regard.
In December 2013 Hery Rajaonarimampianina was elected president of Madagascar. He was elected in the first presidential election since the coup that topped President Marc Ravalomanana in March 2009. President Rajaonarimampianina was the candidate supported by Andry Rajoelina, who had taken power following the coup against Ravalomanana. With legislative elections being held concurrently and with Rajoelina’s group ending up as the largest single group in parliament, it seemed as if there would be a period of stability. However, this hasn’t happened.
Soon after taking power, President Rajaonarimampianina effectively broke with Rajoelina. Seemingly, Rajoelina wanted to be appointed Prime Minister, but President Rajaonarimampianina refused to to do so. The constitution states that the prime minister has to come from the largest group in the legislature. Rajoelina’s group was the largest and it wanted him to be appointed as PM. However, the president reasoned that there was a bigger non-Rajoelina group, even if it was not formally constituted. In the end, after a number of months of wrangling, another figure within Rajoelina’s group was appointed as PM. A new PM from the same group was appointed earlier this year.
Since this time the relations between the president and the legislature have remained strained. This came to a head on 26 May when deputies voted to impeach President Rajaonarimampianina by a vote of 121-4 with no abstentions. This was more than the two-thirds vote needed to dismiss the head of state in the 151-seat legislature. There were reports from pro-presidential deputies that the vote was rigged, but it stood.
The constitution states that the Assembly can vote to dismiss the president on the grounds of mental or physical incapacity to carry out the functions of the office. The list of reasons drawn up by the Assembly against the president were very wide ranging and somewhat contradictory. They included his supposed incapacity to run the country, his lack of action since his election, his interference in the business of the legislature, his failure to uphold the principle of laicity in the constitution, and his prime ministerial appointments.
According to the constitution, once an impeachment vote has been passed, it has to be approved by the High Constitutional Court. If they uphold the vote, then the Assembly once again has to vote by a two-thirds majority to formally dismiss the president.
On 12 June the High Constitutional Court issued its ruling. The Court rejected the Assembly’s impeachment vote. The Court ruled that the vote had not taken place properly and that at least 64 deputies had formally sworn that they had not voted to dismiss the president. Therefore, the two-thirds majority had not been reached. The Court also found other procedural irregularities with the process. Generally, they ruled that the impeachment claim had no legal foundation.
Interestingly, for some academic scholars at least, the Court also officially ruled that the country was semi-presidential. More importantly, it also stated that there were grounds for an agreement between the opposing parties. This was a signal to the president that even though they had ruled in his favour, he should avoid dissolving the legislature and calling fresh elections that would only introduce another period of instability.
On 13 June President Rajaonarimampianina appeared on television and in effect declared that he would not dissolve the legislature. Generally, his address has been interpreted as an attempt to calm the situation. However, some deputies remain resolutely opposed to the president and claim that they are willing to take to the streets to see him dismissed. Here, too, Madagascar has history. Let’s hope that this piece of history does not repeat itself either.