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Madagascar poll finally on the cards

After four years of endless meetings in Maputo, Pretoria, Gaborone and Addis Ababa and of commitments never adhered to and agreements reneged upon, mediators believe the crisis in Madagascar might soon be over.

This follows the decision by a special electoral court in Madagascar to bar the three main protagonists in the current crisis from participating in upcoming elections. Coup leader and interim president Andry Rajoelina, Lalao Ravalomanana the wife of ousted president Marc Ravalomanana, and former president Didier Ratsiraka have been disqualified on technical grounds from the October poll, something the international community believes will give a fresh start to a country mired in political disputes since the coup in March 2009.

This week the Southern African Development Community (SADC) mediator of the crisis, former Moz­ambican president Joaquim Chissano, told the Mail & Guardian that he believes an important milestone has been reached and the elections could provide an opportunity for Madagascar to emerge from the crisis.

"We hope that this time the consensus will stick and it will lead the nation to the elections," he said.

"The president of the transition, Mr Rajoelina, has declared that he was determined to be neutral and to ensure that there is peace and stability during the electoral process."

However, the role of the international community in the setting up of the special electoral court, which last week published a final list of 33 candidates for the elections on October 25, has been contested in some political circles in Madagascar.

In the end, Marc Ravalomanana, who still lives in exile in South Africa, could emerge as one of the biggest losers. When given a chance to provide a replacement candidate after agreeing with Rajoelina that neither of them would run, he nominated his wife, who has been campaigning in Madagascar for the past few weeks – reminiscent of an Imelda Marcos or a Cristina Kirschner stepping in to take her husband's place.

Unconstitutional election

This tactical move by Ravalo-manana sparked anger in the Rajoelina camp. They perceived it as the young former disc jockey and mayor of Anta­­nanarivo, who was just 34 when he took power, reneging on his commitment not to run.

In May the electoral court validated the candidatures of Rajoelina, Lalao Ravalomanana and Ratsiraka, but the international community would have none of it, saying they wouldn't accept the outcome of such an "unconstitutional election".

A new special electoral court was then created to review the list of candidates. On August 17 it threw out Lalao Ravalomanana and Ratsiraka on the basis that they had not been in the country for six months before the election, as the Constitution stipulates.

Rajoelina was rejected because he presented his candidature after the deadline expired. Five other people on the list of candidates were rejected for failing to adhere to the Constitution.

On Wednesday the court also rejected a bid by Ravalomanana to nominate a substitute candidate, saying the deadline for substitutions had expired on August 21.

The supporters of the three failed candidates resent the apparent meddling by the international community. Harry Laurent Rahajason, the minister of communication, reacted by saying, "now the international com­munity might as well appoint their own president", according to a report by Radio France International.

But Chissano says allowing the three candidates to run would have been contrary to the Constitution of Madagascar.

Global solution

"Clearly the court had to be replaced by a [new electoral] court which would be more credible," he said. "So the people of Madagascar found a formula to be welcomed by everybody."

Critics also say the process was delayed by constant disagreement among the mediators in the international contact group for Madagascar, which includes representatives of SADC, the African Union, the International Francophone Organisation, the Indian Ocean Commission, the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and Japan. This ultimately allowed Rajoelina to stay in power for four years.

The unusual move to include former presidents Ratsiraka and Albert Zafy in the talks about the crisis was  due to some mediators wanting to impose a "global solution" to the Madagascar crisis.

But Chissano says the mediation dragged on because of the constant bickering among the parties.

"It was very difficult to get any consensus that stands. They all said they're acting in the supreme interest of the nation but in the end it was clear each one was trying to secure his own interests, political or economic or otherwise."

Through all of this, the country's economy has been brought to its knees. The former French colony relies heavily on international aid, which has been suspended due to the crisis.

Sanctions included Madagascar's exclusion from the United States's African Growth and Opportunity Act, which was a blow to exporters. Tourism figures have halved.

Meanwhile, Madagascar remains suspended from the African Union due to Rajoelina's unconstitutional power grab.

Chissano says it might take five years before institutions can be rebuilt and the rule of law restored.

Hundreds of people have been killed in the series of upheavals and, following a failed army mutiny early last year, the danger of a military coup persists. But Chissano believes this can be ruled out in the run-up to the vote.

"We talked with the military and we don't see any reason for a military coup up to the elections," he said. "We are appealing for people in Madagascar to remain calm and participate in the elections."

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Liesl Louw-Vaudran
Liesl Louw-Vaudran
Liesl Louw-Vaudran is an independent journalist and Africa expert. She lived in Senegal for many years and has reported from over 20 African countries. She is a regular commentator on African issues in the local and international media. From 2002 to 2008 she was the Africa Editor at Media24 newspapers in South Africa and still contributes to newspapers such as the Mail&Guardian in Johannesburg. Liesl also works as a consultant for the Institute for Security Studies, notably as editor of the African Union Peace and Security Council Report.

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