Ravalomanana delays swearing-in

MARC Ravalomanana has decided to delay his investiture as president as divisions deepened in Madagascar and two key provinces seceded in protest at his plans to assume the presidency, an aide said on Wednesday.

Guy Rajemison, the head of the newly proclaimed president’s office, said Ravalomanana had decided, at the request of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), to postpone his investiture, originally set for Friday.

The OAU “asked (Ravalomanana) to postpone the date of his investiture, and he accepted this morning because this is a serious issue,” Rajemison said.

But, he stressed: “There is no question of Mr Ravalomanana renouncing the presidency.”

A team from the OAU was due to fly to the Indian Ocean state, which is split into two armed camps, late on Wednesday or early on Thursday to mediate in the conflict, the organisation said.

The team had been expected on Monday but has been delayed for unknown reasons.

Earlier on Wednesday, the governor of Madagascar’s eastern Toamasina province declared his territory independent, becoming the second province to break away in as many days.

“The province of Toamasina declares its independence within a confederation of independent states of Madagascar,” Governor Samuel Lahady said in an almost verbatim declaration to that issued by his counterpart in Antsiranana on Tuesday.

But he said that he would rescind the move if Ravalomanana’s investiture did not go ahead.

On Tuesday, the governor of Antsiranana, one of Madagascar’s richest provinces which derives its income primarily from vanilla and cloves, fishing and tourism, proclaimed his territory a “sovereign state, independent within the confederation of Madagascar.”

The secessions came in reaction to a constitutional court announcement Monday that said Ravalomanana had won more than 51%—an absolute majority—of ballots cast in the contentious December 16 presidential vote against 35% for long-time ruler Didier Ratsiraka.

Of Madagascar’s six provinces, four—Toamasina, Antsiranana, Toliara in the southeast and Mahajanga in the northwest—are controlled by Ratsiraka loyalists.

The two densely populated central provinces of Fianarantsoa and Antananarivo, home of the capital and economic hub of the Indian Ocean island state, are controlled by Ravalomanana’s backers.

Ratsiraka set up his capital in the eastern port of Toamasina after his election foe declared himself president in February.

“We, the governors of the four provinces, are working together to set up a confederated state of Madagascar,” said Lahady, without giving details.

But it is unclear if the breakaway provinces have military or even popular backing for their move.

Ravalomanana and Ratsiraka on April 18 signed an OAU-brokered pact in Dakar aimed at ending their stand-off over the December election, in which Ravalomanana claimed he was robbed of outright victory by vote-rigging.

According to diplomats who helped to broker the Dakar deal and to backers of both of the presidential rivals, the official pact was accompanied by an unwritten agreement between Ravalomanana and Ratsiraka.

The two leaders reportedly agreed that the recount by the HCC would not produce a clear winner from the first round vote, Ratsiraka’s backers have said.

The two men would then have fallen back on the written accord, which said that if the recount was inconclusive, a transitional government would be formed and a referendum organised to choose Madagascar’s next president.

Decrying the pact as a sell-out, Ratsiraka’s backers have stepped up a stifling blockade of Ravalomanana’s stronghold, Antananarivo, despite the Dakar accord demanding that they dismantle their roadblocks.

Diplomats said the OAU mission will attempt to bring the two men back to the negotiating table and urge them to comply with the letter of the Dakar pact. - AFP


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