Madagascar is set to hold elections in late November or December 2018. With an administration tainted by allegations of corruption and incompetence, President Rajaonarimampianina, who has been in power since 2013, almost lost power in 2015. This came after the country’s parliament voted to remove him from office for “constitutional violations”, but the constitutional court intervened by throwing out the motion.

Leading up to the polls, opposition politicians have complained about new laws pushed by President Rajaonarimampianina that restrict campaign financing and media access. The opposition says the new electoral law directly disadvantages its candidate, given that the law requires a presidential candidate to produce a report on all previous judicial convictions. Their candidate, the former president Marc Ravalomanana, was convicted by a court when he was in exile after the 2009 coup for a range of offences.

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As a result, hundreds of demonstrators gathered in the government quarter on 21 April 2018 to protest the new restrictive law. Local news reported that there was heavy police presence during the protest, including both police and soldiers guarding important sites. Two people were killed and at least 16 people wounded on the first day of the protests, which the authorities had declared illegal and the president denounced as an “attempted coup”.

On its website the High Court published a decision stating that the laws “must be extinguished for non-compliance with the constitutional principle of equality between candidates in the various elections”.

In reaction to this, Hanitra Razafimanantsoa, the vice-president of the National Assembly and a member of Ravalomanana’s party, told reporters, “The decision of the High Court is a first victory. The logical consequence of this decision is the resignation of the government.”

In addition to the contention surrounding the candidates in the upcoming election, Malagasies have spent the last four years struggling to recover from the economic stagnation of the 2009-13 political transition. This is a major issue for residents as they head to the polls this year.

According to the World Bank, the Indian Ocean island, which relies primarily on agriculture and tourism, is among the poorest countries in Africa. It has a GDP per capita of only US$420 and half of its children suffer from chronic malnutrition. The reason for this stagnation was the massive withdrawal by donors and funders. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other international donors broke ties or cut aid payments to Madagascar after a coup in 2009, but resumed after the peaceful presidential vote in 2013.

Despite the cash-starved government cutting back on infrastructure and social spending in recent years, 90 percent of the population lives on less than US$2 a day and critics blame the economic woes on bad leadership and a government that has not helped its citizens to weather the economic storm.

As the country prepares to head to the polls, the World Bank says political risk remains one of the biggest threats to the island nation’s economy.

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Coralie Gevers, the World Bank country manager in Madagascar, was quoted by Africa News as saying, “Madagascar needs to prove first, not just to the international community but to itself, that it can have elections – stable elections, peaceful elections – in late 2018, that will enable them to continue implementing reforms, economic reforms and investing for the long-term benefit of the country not only in infrastructure but also in human development. If we see that, we have every hope and every belief that Madagascar will be able to reduce its poverty.”

The economic strains on the country were made worse by both the Enawo hurricane and insufficient rainfall, which affected agriculture badly. In addition, the 2017 outbreak of the plague not only led to the death of more than 124 Malagasies but crippled the country’s tourism sector.