Following World War II, the Democratic Movement for Malagasy Renewal (Mouvement Démocratique de la Rénouvation Malgache—MDRM), founded by several prominent nationalists, demanded that Madagascar be declared a free state within the French Union. The French, however, organized the island as an overseas territory, granting the vote to few Malagasy. In the wake of the 1947 rebellion, the leaders of the MDRM, whom the French accused of planning and leading the revolt, were convicted of treason and sentenced to death (later commuted to life imprisonment). Charges of French brutality in the suppression of the revolt, however, gained considerable sympathy for the nationalist cause.
After independence, the Social Democratic Party of Madagascar and the Comoros (Parti Social Démocrate de Madagascar et des Comores—PSD) became the dominant political organization in the Malagasy Republic. It was organized in 1957 under the leadership of Philibert Tsiranana, the son of a Tsimihety peasant, and advocated a gradual approach to independence. In the Assembly elections of September 1960, the PSD won 75 seats out of 107. In the 1965 and 1970 elections, it increased its representation to 104 seats. The PSD was supported principally by peasants and other conservative elements, and favored strong ties with France. Tsiranana, who became president in 1960, was reelected in 1965 and again in 1972, just prior to his overthrow. The only real alternative during this period was the pro-Soviet Party of the Congress of Independence (Ankoton'ny Kongresi'ny Fahaleorantenan Madagaskara— AKFM), founded in 1958.
Other parties represented regions, provinces, tribes, or religious groups, but displayed little national strength. The most significant of the regional parties was the Movement for the Independence of Madagascar (Mouvement National pour l'Indépendance de Madagascar—MONIMA) which was led by Monja Jaona from Toliara. It represented the more radical intellectuals and landless peasants of the south. As a result of its armed opposition to the central government in April 1971, which was quickly and harshly suppressed, MONIMA became a truly left-wing opposition movement with support among students and urban radicals. Though MONIMA was banned, these elements led the series of demonstrations against the Tsiranana regime that resulted in its fall in May 1972. The ban on MONIMA was lifted in June.
After the assassination of the new head of state, Richard Ratsimandrava, in February 1975, all political parties were banned. The new constitution institutionalized the ban by providing for the creation of a sole party, to be called the National Front for the Defense of the Révolution (Front National pour la Defense de la Révolution—FNDR).
In effect, however, the FNDR became an umbrella group under which parties survived as "revolutionary associations." MONIMA withdrew from the FNDR in 1977 but returned in 1981, bringing to seven the number of parties in the FNDR. The chief party was Ratsiraka's Vanguard of the Malagasy Revolution (Avant-garde de la Révolution Malgache—AREMA). On 29 May 1977, it won control of almost all provincial and local bodies, and on 30 June 1977, in an election in which voters were presented with a single FNDR list, AREMA won 112 Assembly seats to 16 for the PCI and 9 for two other parties.
In the presidential election of 7 November 1982, President Ratsiraka won reelection with 80.17% of the vote. His sole opponent, Monja Jaona, leader of MONIMA, was removed from the CSR and temporarily placed under house arrest after he called for a general strike to protest the election results. In elections in August 1983, AREMA again won a commanding majority in the Assembly. MONIMA left the FNDR in 1987.
Since the democratic changes of 1992 and 1993, numerous political organizations have operated in Madagascar. In 1991, Albert Zafy founded the National Union for Development and Democracy (UNDD). Zafy was supported in the 1993 elections by Forces Vive (FV), an informal alliance that included the UNDD and the AKFM–Fanavaozana, a breakaway group from the MFM (Mouvement pour le pouvoir prolétarien).
Following his defeat in the presidential elections of February 1993, Didier Ratsiraka created a new party, the Vanguard for Economic and Social Recovery (ARES—Avant Gardes pour le Redressement Économique et Social) to replace the defunct AREMA. Ratsiraka turned on his former policies by proposing a federalist arrangement that would give more autonomy to the provinces. In the elections of 17 May 1998, which were credibly free and fair, AREMA took 62 seats, LEADER/Fanilo 15, AVI 14, RPSD 11, AFFA 6, MFM 3, AKFM/Fanavaozana 3, GRAD/Iloafo 1, Fihaonana 1, independents 34.
In the municipal elections on 14 November 1999, AREMA captured three of the six regional capitals, having previously held just one. The biggest losers were established opposition party candidates such as former president Albert Zafy, who was beaten in his own political stronghold of Antsiranana. Marc Ravalomanana, a 50-year-old businessman and a principal donor of funds to the AVI centrist party, won the mayorship of Antananarivo, the capital city. Although the vote was marred by poor organization, almost all the 1,392 mayorships and 20,000 council seats were contested by at least two candidates. Many these were independents, which seemed to signal that local elections were no longer being run from national party headquarters in the capital.
In the 15 December 2002 parliamentary elections, Ravalomanana's I Love Madagascar (TIM), captured a combined total of 125 out of 160 seats in parliament. The election results (minus presidential appointments) were as follows: TIM 103, FP 22, AREMA 3, LEADER/Fanilo 2, RPSD 5, TTS 2, HBM 1, and independents 22. The opposition criticized the poll as manipulated by the president's party.