SADC drags Madagascar to the last chance saloon

Madagascar’s feuding political leaders met in Botswana on Monday for talks that mediators say are the last chance to resolve the crisis sparked by Andry Rajoelina’s takeover of the island two years ago.

The two-day meeting was convened by the Southern African Development Community (SADC), whose mediators have proposed a “road map” that seeks to end the crisis by installing a transitional government led by Rajoelina.

But ousted president Marc Ravalomanana, in exile in South Africa since the military-backed coup in March 2009, and two other former presidents have refused to sign off on the plan.

Namibian President Hifikepunye Pohamba, the current chair of SADC, opened the meeting with a call to the rivals to put political bickering aside for the good of their country, which has lost 600 million euros a year in European Union aid, suspended over the deadlock.

“I would like to appeal to all Malagasy compatriots here today to show that the interest of the people of Madagascar comes first, before individual parties’ interests,” Pohamba told the 11 political parties at the talks.

“The people of Madagascar have suffered from negative economic and social consequences because of the crisis. They cannot afford to wait any longer.”

Golden opportunity
He called the meeting a “golden opportunity” for Ravalomanana and the other hold-outs to sign the road map, which SADC would like to finalise as soon as possible.

But it was unclear how mediators, led by former Mozambican president Joaquim Chissano, planned to resolve the impasse.

The current plan would allow Ravalomanana to return from exile only when the “political and security environment (is) favourable”.

The ousted president currently faces life in prison if he returns to Madagascar, after he was sentenced in absentia for the 2009 murder of a group of demonstrators by his presidential guard during the violent street protests that led to his overthrow.

The road map would also make strongman Rajoelina president of a transitional government tasked with steering the country to new elections.

Transitional leadership
Ravalomanana’s camp said on Monday he was ready to accept Rajoelina as transitional president but wanted to choose the prime minister and be allowed to return to the island immediately.

“We accept (Rajoelina) as transitional president, despite ourselves,” said Mamy Rakotoarivelo, head of Ravalomanana’s delegation.

“So the prime minister will need to be from the Ravalomanana movement, or at least from one of the (opposition) movements, to balance the transitional executive.”

After Ravalomanana’s overthrow, SADC initially condemned Rajoelina’s power grab and suspended the island nation.

But two years on, the regional bloc has had little success convincing Rajoelina to relinquish power.

A string of mediation talks in the Mozambican capital, Maputo, ended in a power-sharing deal between the two rival leaders and former presidents Didier Ratsiraka and Albert Zafy.

But Rajoelina later dismissed the deal, sending mediators back to the drawing board. — Sapa-AFP

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