/ 17 November 2010

Madagascar constitutional vote under way

Voters in Madagascar are lining up to vote “yes” or “no” on a new constitution that calls for keeping a coup leader in power indefinitely.

In the capital Antananarivo, voters were ready and waiting when polling stations opened at 6.00am local time.

“People seem to be taking an interest. There were people already waiting at 6.00am,” said Rija Rakotobe, an official in charge of a polling station in the capital where half a dozen people were queueing up to vote.

Streets in the capital were calm Wednesday, with police vehicles cruising after minor violence was reported overnight. A fire was set at the offices of a party close to the coup leader, Andry Rajoelina. No one was injured and police have not said what they believe to be the motive.

It is the first poll since the March 2009 coup that ousted elected president Marc Ravalomanana and brought the Indian Ocean island’s current strongman Andry Rajoelina to power, and is being held in defiance of efforts to negotiate a solution with the ousted president and other leaders. A key clause in the proposed charter states that the current leader of a so-called High Transitional Authority — Rajoelina — would remain in power until a new president is elected.

It marks the first phase of a process agreed to by Rajoelina and around 100 small politica movements to lift the island out of political limbo. The process has however been rejected by the opposition and criticised by the international community.

Just under 8-million voters are eligible to cast their ballots Wednesday. — Sapa-AFP, AP