Madagascar's ousted leader poised for return

Madagascan parties on Saturday signed an agreement allowing the return of former president Marc Ravalomanana whose 2009 ouster plunged the country into a political paralysis.

Ravalomanana’s grouping and that of Albert Zafy, another former president, inked the deal that had already been signed by eight other political groups to resolve the island nation’s protracted crisis.

The political movement of ex-president Didier Ratsiraka did not sign the deal brokered by the Southern African Development Community (SADC), an Agence France-Presse correspondent reported.

The agreement had stuttered after an SADC June summit called for the unconditional return of Ravalomanana who is in exile in South Africa—a move rejected by Madagascar’s strongman Andry Rajoelina.

Rajoelina—who seized power in March 2009 after an army-backed coup—agreed to Ravalomanana’s return following lengthy negotiations.

“The discussions were arduous and protracted,” Mauritian Foreign Minister Arvin Boolell told AFP.

“We interacted with all parties concerned, with all political entities, and finally the solution to the crisis was found through sheer negotiation. I’m glad that everybody came back to better senses,” he added.

Uncertain future
Ravalomanana’s return remains doubtful as he faces life in prison back home after being sentenced in absentia for the 2009 killing of protestors by his presidential guard during violent street demonstrations that led to his overthrow.

“To say that Ravalomanana’s camp is entirely satisfied would be a lie but we put the interest of the nation first, conceding some of our demands for amendments,” said Mamy Rakotoarivelo, Ravalomanana’s representative in the talks.

The Mauritian foreign minister said Ravalomanana’s return date was “subject to monitoring and discussion”.

“The importance is that all parties have subscribed fully to the road map. One should not only focus our attention on Mr Ravalomanana, but on all [Madagascans] in exile who have a legitimate right to come back.”

In an addendum to the agreement, SADC said returning Madagascans would not benefit from immunity from prosecution because the grouping does not have the right to “interfere with or annul a judicial sentence by a national court”.

Nonetheless, Rakotoarivelo said the former president could “return as soon as new transitional institutions are set up”.

The agreement also calls for a power-sharing arrangement by the signatories until presidential and parliamentary elections are held with Rajoelina in the interim remaining the president.

“This is the beginning of the process and not the end,” said Marius Fransman, South African deputy foreign minister and a member of the SADC negotiating team.

Philippe Willaert, European Union’s interim representative in Madagascar, also hailed the agreement.

“It is a success for Madagascans who proved that they were capable of acting in a common accord ...
it is a welcome change at the last minute,” he said.

Madagascar has been isolated by the international community since the 2009 coup, with the SADC and the African Union suspending its membership until a return to constitutional order.

Economic decline
Madagascar has been rocked by instability and economic decline since Rajoelina overthrew Ravalomanana with the help of rebel troops in March 2009.

He had previously said Ravalomanana could not return to the Indian Ocean island until it was stable and that the former president could be held to account for crimes committed during his final weeks in power.

Ravalomanana has been sentenced in absentia to life in prison over the killings of demonstrators by elite troops in the run-up to his overthrow.

The road map urged the swift passing of an amnesty law.

“This road map is recognised by the international community,” said Willaert.—AFP, Reuters

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