Dan and Elizabeth Turk - May 1 Update

Antananarivo, Madagascar

We recently received updated information on the situation in Madagascar from Dan and Elizabeth Turk. Scroll to the end of this article for news they shared April 24th.

Dear friends,

Madagascar is still experiencing daily ongoing protests in the capital city of Antananarivo. Large crowds were expected Saturday April 28th and again on May 1st, a holiday. The demonstrations are being led by members of the National Assembly upset with new election laws that they insist were passed with the assistance of payouts to other members of the National Assembly. These laws are seen as favoring the current president, Hery Rajaonarimampianina, and making it hard or impossible for the two other major contenders, Marc Ravalomanana and Andry Rajoelina, to run. People joining the demonstrations are expressing their frustration at the high level of corruption in the government, judicial system, and armed forces. They are voicing the increasing difficulty of living with low incomes combined with rising prices and insecurity.

On Saturday April 21st, two people were killed in the demonstrations in front of city hall at the place known as the Treize Mai – named in remembrance of the day in 1972 when protesters burned down city hall, forcing the first Malagasy president from office. Since last Sunday afternoon, the security forces have abandoned efforts to keep the demonstrators from meeting, instead saying that they will protect people and property. Since then the demonstrators have formally asked for the High Constitutional Court to remove the president from office and have filed suit over Saturday’s deaths and wounded. They are trying to extend the demonstrations to cities in other parts of Madagascar.

The demonstrators are calling for the ouster of president Rajaonarimampianina and his government but have not named a parallel government. The president is calling for the protesters to stop protesting. In the next few days, the High Constitutional Court should be issuing a ruling on the constitutionality of the new electoral laws. The international community is sending mediators. The Southern African Development Community (SADC) is sending Joachim Chissano, the former president of Mozambique who served as mediator during the 2009 crisis. The demonstrators say that he is not welcome, that failure of the international community’s efforts to adequately resolve the 2009 crisis is why demonstrators are currently in the streets. The African Union and United Nations are also sending envoys.

The Church of Jesus Christ in Madagascar (FJKM), PC(USA)’s partner church, held a worship service for the nation April 26th. An ecumenical service of the Christian Council of Churches (FFKM – composed of the FJKM, Lutheran, Catholic, and Anglican churches) is scheduled for this Sunday. The FFKM has been asked to assist in mediation between the two sides. In a statement released Wednesday, April 25th, the FJKM condemned violence, recommended dialogue as a way to solve problems, and called for prayer for the nation. It also issued condolences for those killed and prayers for recovery to those wounded.

Although all sides are currently saying that they want presidential elections to be held on schedule in late 2018, a quick resolution of the current crisis is not a given. The president faces widespread disapproval. The members of the National Assembly leading the demonstrations are trying to keep the crowds in control, but this may become harder as time goes by if people feel that their voices are not being heard or if others try to manipulate the demonstrations. Reuters has been putting out balanced articles about the crisis in English.

Please continue to pray for the nation of Madagascar, especially for the church leaders and others working to find a just resolution to the current crisis. Please pray that the demonstrations on Saturday and May 1st remain peaceful.
Dan and Elizabeth

April 24, 2018

Turks April 2018 update riot police.jpg

Dear friends,

Please pray for Madagascar as a new crisis may be starting.

Saturday, April 21, there were demonstrations downtown at the 13 Mai plaza in Antananarivo led by opposition parliamentarians who were upset at the corruption in the recent passing of electoral laws. The U.S. Embassy stated that 10,000 people demonstrated. However, this number has not been confirmed yet. Military fired tear gas on the crowd. It is our understanding that the troops also fired live bullets after they retreated into City Hall as they feared for their lives. The number of dead appears to be at least two (hospital source in the media) and possibly as high as six (local radio); yesterday the U.S. embassy reported four dead. Reports that two children died at the children’s hospital (very close to the 13 Mai) due to tear gas may not be true.

The situation remains very fragile. There were calls to hold a wake at City Hall on Sunday for the dead. On that day, many more military were present downtown. We understand that the wake was called off and that the families of the dead have collected (or will collect) the bodies at the morgue presumably after autopsies have been performed.

We understand that the opposition parliamentarians have called for a return to the 13 Mai (downtown) tomorrow at 10:00 a.m. local time. They are calling for the president of Madagascar to resign.

All of this is happening while the National Council of the FJKM church (MF) is having a week-long meeting which ends Wednesday, April 25.  A worship service to be attended by the MF members was scheduled at the FJKM church downtown in Analakely but we do not know if this happened. The MF was already planning on putting out a statement concerning the life of the nation, so recent events will undoubtedly be taken into account in the statement that should be coming out in a few days.

We are safe at home here at Ivato. We have been in communication with our colleague, Jan Heckler, and know that she, too will be staying at home without plans to go to the center of town.

Our understanding is that the opposition parliamentarians are very upset at the way the vote on the new electoral laws took place. There has been widespread talk of corruption within the National Assembly (equivalent of U.S. congress). It appears that over the Easter weekend pro-government members of the National Assembly got together at the Paon d’Or hotel near Ivato for several days and then were bused directly to the National Assembly to vote on the three new electoral laws. There have been accusations that some parliamentarians were paid to pass the electoral laws. These laws have many provisions that have raised alarms for civil society organizations, opposition politicians, and the international community. Among them is the barring of Marc Ravalomanana from the presidential election based on his in-absentia conviction for the shooting of civilians who tried to take over the presidential palace on February 7, 2009. Others include the way the election will be carried out and the time frame between the initial and run-off elections. The U.S. government and other international groups have been calling for inclusive elections (allowing both Marc Ravalomanana and Andry Rajoelina to run).

Elizabeth and I are very concerned for the country. We understand the frustration of the parliamentarians. Corruption is a huge problem here. There is also great distrust of the courts. The parliamentarians have made complaints to BIANCO (the body that examines corruption) and to the High Constitutional Court (HCC). The whole country is waiting to see whether or not the HCC will throw out the new electoral laws or require them to be modified in some ways. There is a fear that the HCC may bend to government pressure. However, by calling for further protests and the resignation of the president, the opposition parliamentarians could be accused of fomenting a coup d’état. It would not be good for the country to go through another coup d’état.

Some other issues: there is some evidence that the security forces are somewhat split, not all in favor of using force to counter protesters. There is also some information about limited looting going on yesterday. It would be bad if this were to spread.

There are several articles on the web about the demonstrations. 

Prayer Request
Please pray for all concerned (FJKM leadership, MF members, opposition parliamentarians, civil society, opposition politicians, military, the High Constitutional Court, BIANCO, the current government leaders, and the Malagasy people) that solutions will be found that allow the country to move forward toward peaceful, free, and fair elections. May the Church be a light and anchor in this time.

Dan and Elizabeth

Read more about the Turks' ministry in Madagascar HERE.

The Outreach Foundation is seeking $10,000 for support funds for Dan and Elizabeth Turk.