Madagascar leaders resume talks to end crisis

Madagascar’s leaders resumed power-sharing talks in Mozambique yesterday to pick a transitional government mandated with steering the nation to elections after months of political upheaval.
Andry Rajoelina, whose campaign of street protests culminated in a coup that ousted then leader Marc Ravalomanana in March, aims to cement his leadership of a country increasingly eyed by investors for its oil, bauxite, nickel, cobalt, gold and uranium.
The session got off to a slow start, with UN chief mediator Tiebile Drame saying there was deadlock on who would get which top jobs despite several hours of private discussions.
“The most sensitive issue now is who is going to lead the transitional government and who is going to be the prime minister,” Drame told Reuters.
There was broad agreement, he said, on the structure of the planned unity government, as well as a framework for elections. Former presidents Didier Ratsiraka and Albert Zafy are sitting with Rajoelina and Ravalomanana to hammer out a deal.
Madagascar’s feuding power-brokers are supposed to name a president, prime minister, three deputy prime ministers and 28 ministers within 30 days under the terms of an agreement struck on August 9 in Mozambique’s capital, Maputo.
The crisis has cut economic growth on the world’s fourth largest island, while the international community has suspended aid and left Rajoelina floundering in diplomatic isolation.
The lead-up to the talks was dominated by mistrust and brinksmanship as Madagascar’s politicians jockeyed for position.
Too much to lose
Rajoelina, a 35-year-old former mayor of Antananarivo, the capital, with less than three years political experience, has said he is the only person who can lead the transition.
Mediators, led by Mozambique’s former president Joaquim Chissano, have stressed that no political posts have yet been allocated. Under the August 9 accord, all members of the transitional government except the president will be barred from contesting the next presidential election. The poll must be held within 15 months of the signing of the deal.
Ravalomanana has said he will not take part directly in the transition, but has not ruled out contesting the next election.
“These talks are not easy,” Leonardo Simao, a member of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) delegation, told reporters as the discussions got under way.
Unemployment has risen in Madagascar’s urban centres since the start of the crisis, in which more than 135 people have been killed. While the August deal restored hope among many that the bitter rivals would put private interests aside, concerns linger that too many individuals have too much to lose.
Antananarivo taxi driver Rojo Rivolantonihery said he believed Madagascar’s four senior leaders could work together.
“They are no longer the problem. The problem lies with those around them,” he said.

Pic: Ousted president Marc Ravalomanana of Madagascar