Divided Madagascar holds first post-coup poll

Madagascans go to the polls on Wednesday for the first time since the March 2009 coup to vote in a constitutional referendum meant to kick-start an already doubtful crisis-resolution process.

The vote marks the first phase of a process agreed to by the country’s strongman, Andry Rajoelina, and about 100 small political movements to lift the island out of political limbo.

The disk jockey-turned-president, who never clinched the domestic and foreign support he hoped for when the army hoisted him to power, has billed Wednesday’s poll as the first step towards normalisation.

The main opposition groups, headed by three former presidents, are calling for a boycott, arguing that Rajoelina has reneged on past deals and that Madagascar needs a broader consensus before voting its way out of the crisis.

The international community, on which the Madagascan economy is highly reliant, has made its scepticism clear.

“The political structures and processes created by the de-facto government remain insufficiently democratic and consensual,” US Deputy Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Karl Wycoff said during a visit earlier this month.

Rajoelina has promised not to run for president when the reform and electoral process culminates, but under the new current constitution, the 36-year-old is too young to enter the race.

With opposition heavyweights simply boycotting the vote, the “no” camp has struggled to rally any significant support.

The constitutional debate has been tepid and the run-up to the referendum a one-way affair resembling a presidential campaign.

“This referendum will not yield a solution to the crisis,” said Mamy Rakotoarivelo, a close aide to Marc Ravalomanana, the former president who was ousted by the army-backed Rajoelina.

“What risks happening is that we’ll simply have another crisis in six months, in one year or in two years,” he argued.

Despite widespread scepticism over the electoral process’s chances of success, Rajoelina has doggedly pressed on with his own road map.

Huge “yes” rallies have been held across the vast Indian Ocean nation ahead of the referendum in a bid to secure a large turnout that would lend some credibility to the result.

“Those who campaign for a boycott are irresponsible,” argued the “yes” camp’s campaign director, Augustin Andriamananoro.

His target is a two-thirds approval of the proposed constitution and a 40% turnout.

Andriamananoro pitched the new constitution as a document that would “right historical wrongs” and create “a social covenant between the governing and the governed”.

Rajoelina surfed a wave of popular support in 2008 after clinching the job of Antananarivo mayor by promising jobs and prosperity and describing Ravalomanana as a dictator starving his people.

But as the island goes to the polls 20 months to the day after the coup, the young leader is isolated on the regional scene and desperately needs fresh legitimacy at home if he is to find the means of delivering on his pledges.

Harotsilavo Rakotoson, a leading “no” campaigner, claims to have obtained assurances from foreign embassies that a landslide victory for the “yes” camp would not change the world’s attitude towards the coup-installed regime.—Sapa-AFP

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