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Democratic crisis or crisis of confidence? What local perceptual lenses tell us about Madagascar's 2009 political crisis

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This paper explores the extent to which democratic values and institutions propagated by the international community and measured by influential governance indices correlate with local perceptions of politics and democracy in one eastern region of Madagascar. A careful reading of the political crisis that erupted in Madagascar in 2009 highlights how 'undemocratic' behaviour - a 'coup' even - can have roots in democratic desires that have little to do with elections. I argue that local perceptual lenses, identifiable by characteristic competences and dispositions, have considerable interpretive significance regarding what might otherwise be labelled deviant behaviour in unconsolidated or hybrid democracies. Using qualitative data collected using an innovative methodology during five months of ethnographic fieldwork immediately preceding the crisis, this paper examines the interface between international democracy assistance policies and mass local political perceptions. It concludes that long-term prospects for deepening democracy in Africa and elsewhere depend in part on how - and how well - external experts strategically engage with the communities they propose to reform.
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Keywords: Madagascar; democracy; democracy assistance; elections; free speech

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Politics, University of York, UK

Publication date: 2011-04-01

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