/ 21 January 2010

AU to offer new Madagascar compromise

The African Union’s top diplomat will present Madagascar’s bickering power-brokers with a fresh political compromise aimed at ending a year-long crisis.

AU Commission chairperson Jean Ping, who arrived on the Indian Ocean island on Thursday, is expected to meet President Andry Rajoelina and opposition leaders before handing over his proposal and giving all sides two weeks to respond.

Rajoelina, Africa’s youngest leader, has in recent weeks torn up a string of internationally brokered power-sharing deals, appointed a military prime minister and is intent on unilaterally organising legislative elections slated for March.

There are, however, serious concerns within the opposition and among donor nations that a poll hastily organised by a government not recognised internationally will lack transparency and credibility.

Former DJ Rajoelina has urged international mediators to stop meddling in the mineral-producing island’s affairs and has categorically refused to reopen discussions on a consensus government.

The turmoil has unsettled major foreign investors, including Sherritt International, Rio Tinto and Exxon Mobil, and dramatically curbed economic growth.

One presidential adviser was a little more conciliatory ahead of talks with Ping.

“Any compromise by the Rajoelina movement will depend on Ping’s proposals. We will see,” Norbert Ratsirahonana told Reuters.

Opposition leaders insist on sticking to the terms of earlier agreements that paved the way for forming a unity government tasked with preparing presidential elections.

“A consensus solution must emerge from the proposals. The government must be one of national union,” former president Albert Zafy told Reuters late on Wednesday.

The United States has warned the world’s fourth-largest island that it could face sanctions if Rajoelina’s administration continues to foster an atmosphere of intimidation and impedes a return to constitutional rule.

Rajoelina toppled former leader Marc Ravalomanana last March after weeks of street protests but his power grab prompted donors to suspend aid worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

One diplomatic source said Ping had to put something on the table that made Rajoelina “throw the opposition a few bones” and ensured the process towards eventual elections was inclusive. — Reuters