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Hurdles in the way of Madagascar's new deal

Mada protest aftermath Flickr/r1_lita's
It will take some time for Madagascar's feuding political rivals to implement their breakthrough agreement, but while hopes are high that the newly signed deal will pave the way to reconciliation and stability, there are still some serious hurdles.

"I wish this were the end of the political conflict - but alas, there is lots of scope for continuing struggles," Stephen Ellis, professor of social sciences at the Free University of Amsterdam and senior researcher at the African Studies Centre in Leiden, the Netherlands, told IRIN.

The power-sharing deal signed in Maputo, capital of Mozambique, on 9 August brought Andry Rajoelina, former mayor of Madagascar's capital, Antananarivo, face to face with ousted President Marc Ravalomanana for the first time since political violence began in January 2009. The standoff culminated in what the international community condemned as a "coup-style" change of leadership on 17 March.

After months of failed mediation attempts, the latest talks, facilitated by former Mozambican president Joaquim Chissano on behalf of the international community under the auspices of the African Union (AU), were widely hailed.

"This was a clear sign that the leaders are now committed to seeing an end to the political crisis," said a statement on 11 August by the Institute for Security Studies (ISS), a think-tank based in Pretoria, South Africa.

The Indian Ocean Island's main political factions pledged to work towards an interim government, put an end to months of political violence and hold fresh elections within 15 months. Former heads of state Didier Ratsiraka and Albert Zaphy were also signatories to the document.

The modalities

While the accord agreed on an interim authority with a president, vice president, prime minister, three deputy prime ministers and a cabinet of 28 ministers, to be in place by September 2009, the modalities of how power will be shared among the parties are still sketchy. Ellis warned: "The agreement is vague enough about the transitional arrangements so as to leave scope for continuing contestation."

According to Richard Marcus, Director of the International Studies Programme at California State University, in the US, if Madagascar's recent history was an indication, the proposed process of constitutional reform and the creation of "democratic and stable institutions" could be serious stumbling blocks.

"The constitution has been altered by every president to serve his purpose since [1992]. If the very nature of the political system is subject to the whims of each individual leader, then how can we say that institutions have ever been stable?" he noted. "How will this piece of paper, creating only a transitional government, and no parameters leading to constitutional reform, lead to stable institutions?"

''It is notable that the army officers who spearheaded the coup in March 2009 have dissociated themselves from this agreement''
The amnesty

A highly contentious amnesty would be granted to Ravalomanana and Ratsiraka, both currently in exile. Ratsiraka's convictions in 2003 for alleged misuse of public funds and threatening state security would be pardoned; Ravalomanana's four-year jail sentence for embezzlement and abuse of power during his seven-year rule would be nullified; the incumbent, Rajoelina, would be protected from any issues arising from his rise to power.

"While the participants, and particularly Ravalomanana, Ratsiraka, and Rajoelina, are protected from prosecution for the political events of 2002, 2006, 2008 and 2009," Marcus noted, "the amnesty does not exonerate serious violations to human rights, fundamental liberties protected by regional and international instruments. It is therefore conceivable that a former leader could be tried on other grounds. That would be destabilizing."

The military

Those who backed Rajoelina's takeover bid, and might have benefited in the process, have yet to respond to the agreement. In particular, the position of the military, instrumental to the success of the power grab, remains unclear. "It is notable that the army officers who spearheaded the coup in March 2009 have dissociated themselves from this agreement," Ellis commented.

Marcus said, "It is easy to say that the military can return comfortably to the barracks now, and since it seems that neither sous-officers [lower ranks] nor elite are wanting to run the country, they very well might."

He pointed out that recent events meant the military had "lost much of its professionalization. While it has stayed stunningly politically unified, individual units have made significant money by serving as private guards for VIPs, and other less-than-illustrious activities. Going back to the barracks means going back to base salaries."

The roots

Ellis noted that although the struggle had "economic and social aspects, this one was primarily political. It began with rivalries within the political class, displaced by Marc Ravalomanana in his rise to power, and neglected by him subsequently."

Despite the agreement, the root causes of instability remained: "The current effort only covered political, not social or economic, considerations," Marcus noted.

The underlying reason for Madagascar's recurring situation was "because there are not the institutional channels for a frustrated, angry, marginalized population to express itself. The accord does nothing to resolve this issue in the short term," he said.

"Why was this an agreement between the heads of state? Do they represent Madagascar? Absent is any semblance of civil society. The great hope is less in the power of these leaders and more in the populace."

Social movements in predominantly rural Madagascar had generally been confined to urban areas. "It follows that if [unrest] moves to the countryside it has more profound implications for an unravelling of the state-society relationship," Marcus pointed out. "This is the point where the state can be threatened. The accord recognizes this in stating that the transition is meant to 'assure the continuity of the state'."

Map of Madagascar
Photo: ReliefWeb
Map of Madagascar
The election

The main purpose of the agreement is to ensure a smooth transition to internationally monitored elections around the end of 2010. Not only was 15 months "A long time for this unstable situation to last," Ellis commented, it would also be difficult "without sustained attention from the international community". The United Nations has offered to assist in organizing the poll.

Elections in Madagascar have often been hotly contested, as have the results. The agreement now throws up the question of who will be eligible to stand in the next one.

Ravalomanana, by indicating that he will not be part of the transitional authority, has put his name in the hat. "His decision should be viewed in light of the fact that the accord clearly specifies that members of the transition government may not run in the elections," the ISS statement noted.

Rajoelina's position is unclear. While there was no certainty that he would stay on as president of the transitional government, this post was excluded from the clause barring transition government members from standing in the upcoming polls.

There could also be a more serious problem: under the previous constitution Rajoelina was five years too young to be president. "Ratsiraka is too old to run," Marcus said. "He can, however, return to play a powerbroker."

Ravalomanana and Ratsiraka both claimed victory after elections in 2001. Ratsiraka's supporters tried to blockade Antananarivo, which was pro-Ravalomanana, but after a recount of the vote in April 2002, Madagascar's High Constitutional Court pronounced Ravalomanana president, ending Ratsiraka's 26-year rule.

The way forward

The process of constitutional revision could be vital in determining the success of the agreement. "Elections will be important in Madagascar. However, they will be important because of the consensus-building they bring. This should not be confused with democratic consolidation, or with building strong institutions. Madagascar first needs to survive a new constitutional convention and referendum. One step at a time," Marcus said. 

"There will be more demonstrations during these 15 months. That in itself is ok. The important part is that key constituent groups remain committed to the process, and that the populace maintains its current level of patience."

The ISS was more optimistic: "It is likely that some disagreements will arise in the selection of members of the government, but if the recently ended talks are anything to go by, there is sufficient political will to ensure that eventually this transitional authority will be formed."


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information:

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