At the end of its national convention which took place in Antananarivo on March 29, and 30, 2003, the TEZA party, a pro-Ravalomanana political entity, called for an end to the autonomous province structure. Among the resolutions which clearly resulted from the TEZA party?s national convention was the reinstatement of the 24-region structure to replace the existing six autonomous provinces, created through a constitutional amendment passed after former dictator Didier Ratsiraka returned to power in 1998.
According to Article 126 of the Malagasy constitution, “Autonomous provinces are public federations vested with jurisdictional authority, as well as administrative, and financial autonomy”. The problem is that this structure has hardly brought about the fundamental socio-economic development which the six provinces of the Great Island sorely lack. Political parties, like MFM, have openly endorsed a return to the 24-region structure for decentralization purposes.
Shortly after his return to power, former Dictator Didier Ratsiraka, and his team undertook to amend the Malagasy Constitution so that they could do away with the existing 24-region structure – instituted at the beginning of the Third Republic in 1992 – and create in its place six tribally aligned autonomous provinces. Thus, no matter what anyone says, former dictator Didier Ratsiraka?s specter continues to loom behind the very concept of autonomous provinces. By and large, the image of the autonomous provinces remains inextricably linked with former dictator Didier Ratsiraka?s very unflattering legacy, and public persona. Although Amendment 128 provides that “people, goods, services, and capitals are free to circulate between autonomous provinces, and within each province”, former dictator Didier Ratsiraka, at the height of the 2002 crisis, turned the structure into a formidable weapon to divide the Malagasy people by ordering roadblocks on all national highways. Moreover, he encouraged five of the six autonomous provinces to secede, despite the fact that Amendment 126 also provides for an absolute ban on: “All secession, or attempts to secede by one or more autonomous provinces. Instigators of such acts (…) are to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, and face the maximum penalty within the penal code.”
Ever since former dictator Didier Ratsiraka, for various reasons, opted to act in a manner which was not consistent with the spirit of the Constitution, the autonomy of the provinces was no longer viewed favorably, not even by some of its key architects. In other words, the structure has clearly lost its luster, and is no longer a popular one. For now at least, the new leadership has not given any indication that it has any intention of switching course. A constitutional amendment is not part of its current agenda. Nonetheless, the pet project of parties, such as MFM, and TEZA – the 24-region system – is regaining momentum, and popularity. It is a known fact that, administratively, the regional structure is the preferred choice. The Agricultural Department, for example, has chosen the regional structure as a basis for implementing its various decentralized structures. A judicious move which, members of the higher echelon agree, will serve as a model for other departments.
Translated by J. F. Razanamiadana