/ 17 June 2011

Madagascan leader defies SADC ruling on former president

Madagascan Leader Defies Sadc Ruling On Former President

Madagascar’s security forces and de facto president Andry Rajoelina and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) are facing off over the return of deposed president Marc Ravalomanana and pending elections in the country.

On June 12 SADC recommended that Ravalomanana be allowed to return unconditionally from exile to contest free and fair elections.

But speaking to the press in Madagascar’s capital, Antananarivo, army chief André Andrianarijaona said the country’s security forces were “strongly opposed to the immediate return of former president Marc Ravalomanana, to keep order and public safety”, and that the security forces were determined to take “all the necessary measures in putting this declaration in place”.

In a subsequent statement Rajoelina argued that “the mediators, namely SADC, recognise that it is the power of the authorities to authorise or not the return of these voluntary exiles”.

SADC’s leaders have been slow to respond to the snub, with spokesperson Charles Mubita saying leaders were not likely to engage in “tit-for-tat commentary outside the negotiation framework”.

“If Rajoelina had said what he did during the Gaborone meeting, then SADC would not have come out with that recommendation. If this is his position, then he must come back to the negotiating table to state it,” Mubita said.

The recommendation has been viewed as an amendment to SADC’s road map for ending the crisis in Madagascar originally developed by former Mozambique president Joaquim Chissano, but which did not find favour with Madagascar’s opposition parties in part because it did not provide for the return of exiled leaders.

But, as a Western diplomat who did not wish to be named explained: “SADC’s own road map — effectively handed Rajoelina the advantage he is now pressing home. In his statement this week Rajoelina said Ravalomanana’s return was an issue for the transitional government to decide but SADC’s own road map gave Rajoelina the power to pack the congress with his own supporters. SADC shot itself in the foot there.”

France’s widely perceived support for Rajoelina’s government is the elephant in the room in discussions about Madagascar’s political crisis. Asked what the international response to Rajoelina’s defiant stance on SADC’s recommendations would be, French ambassador Jean-Marc Chataignier said that for France “it’s a question of national Malagasy sovereignty and we are not going to interfere in a Malagasy and internal political decision”.

“The most important thing for now is that SADC, supported by the United Nations, opens up its liaison office in Antananarivo and helps strengthen and enlarge key institutions, such as the CENI (Independent National Electoral Commission) and transitional parliament to allow elections to take place,” he said. “We can talk until we’re blue in the face about the crisis, but there’s a given moment when we have to realise that we must get out of this crisis and the only way to do this is through elections.”

Rajoelina has repeatedly insisted that presidential elections should be held this year, whereas SADC, at the Gaborone meeting, insisted that its standards on the holding of democratic elections be met first and that Rajoelina stand down as president of the transitional government six months before the elections.

In his statement Rajoelina hinted that he would push ahead with elections regardless of international opinion.

“If the international community will bring its support, so much the better. However, we cannot wait much longer. We are determined to proceed towards undisputable [sic] elections accepted by all,” he said.

Ravalomanana, for his part, vowed to return to Madagascar in spite of army opposition and a failed attempt in February to board a South African Airways flight because Rajoelina’s government issued a ban that made him “persona non grata“.