Under its "autonomous province" scheme, Madagascar is undergoing a major, if confusing decentralization of power. During his 1996 campaign, Ratsiraka promised to draft laws that would govern future autonomous provincial authorities. He subsequently sponsored workshops to gather input and share ideas with regional leaders.
Madagascar is divided into six provinces, subdivided into 28 regions comprising 148 departments, and further divided into nearly 1,400 communes. At the local level are some 11,393 fokontany (village or urban neighborhood organizations). At the fokontany level, a president and council are elected, as are the mayors and council members of the communes. Councilors of the regional communes will have the authority to elect members to the senate. Formerly, all levels of the Malagasy state were organized in hierarchical fashion within the jurisdiction of the Ministry of the Interior.
When complete, decentralization will transfer power from the central government to the provinces and municipalities, and to administrative subdivisions for tax collection, service provision, and development planning. Despite their flaws, municipal elections throughout the country in November 1999 confirmed the effects of the new policy. However, the autonomous provinces issue is still very contentious. Concerns are that provincial autonomy will threaten Madagascar's political unity.