Democracy in Madagascar elusive as talks on polls plan fail — again
Posted Saturday, August 11 2012 at 16:50
The collapse of talks held in the Seychelles between current Madagascan president Andry Rajoelina and Marc Ravalomanana – the man he ousted with the help of rebel soldiers in March 2009 – threatens to prolong the political crisis that the country has been steeped in since the regime change.
The talks were held last Wednesday in the wake of an announcement by Rajoelina’s government that long-awaited democratic elections would be held next year.
However, the government is opposed to Mr Ravalomanana’s contesting in the planned polls, arguing that an earlier criminal conviction disqualifies him.
Last week’s talks – the second direct encounter between the rivals in the Seychelles in two weeks, after a first round on July 25 also ended without resolution – were mediated by the 15-nation Southern African Development Community, which had also set a July 31 deadline for the two rivals to settle their differences so that a timetable for elections in Madagascar could be unveiled.
With the collapse of the talks, SADC extended the deadline to August 16, with a view to enabling the Madagascan political rivals to settle their differences.
That prospect appears remote, though, particularly given that the July 25 meeting ended without any deal after only a half-hour of discussions.
The wrangling politicians were however reported to have said that the discussions would continue in future, but no date was given for the next round of talks.
Moreover, their vow was put to question even before the meeting in the Seychelles when an adviser to the incumbent president reportedly said there would be no agreement at the meeting, given that “the positions of the two [politicians] were diametrically opposed.”
Just about a year ago, Rajoelina and Ravalomanana signed a “roadmap” towards elections, but the deal has yet to be fully implemented.
So implacable are the two rivals, however, that when in January this year Ravalomanana tried to return to Madagascar, he was prevented from doing so when the island nation shut down its airports and refused to allow former leader’s flight to land.
Rajoelina signed a political road map that allowed for the unconditional return of Ravalomanana, his exiled predecessor, ahead of elections that were expected to be held within a year.
All but one of Madagascar’s three main opposition parties signed the 2011 agreement, which was mediated by the Southern African Development Community bloc, and which confirmed Rajoelina as president, paving way for wider formal recognition for the first time since the former disc jockey and former mayor of the capital Antananarivo led a coup in March 2009.
The recalcitrant Rajoelina had previously averred that Ravalomanana could not return to his homeland until Madagascar was stable, and also insisted that the former president should be held to account for crimes allegedly committed during his final weeks in power.
The alleged crimes included the killing of demonstrators by elite troops in the run-up to the coup.
Soon after the coup, which was carried out with the help of rebel troops and was viewed as a power grab by Rajoelina, Madagascar was suspended from SADC and the African Union (AU).
For good measure, the AU slapped sanctions on Rajoelina and more than 100 of his backers, while the European Union and other donors froze aid reportedly worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
Matters have not been made better by the fact that, soon after the economic blockades were put in place, Madagascar was rocked by instability and economic decline.