Madagascar’s new constitution approved in ballot


Voters in Madagascar approved a new constitution that will allow Africa’s youngest leader to stand in presidential elections scheduled for May 2011, according to provisional results released yesterday.

The new basic law is meant to be the first step towards constitutional order in a country that has been stuck in political gridlock since President Andry Rajoelina forced his predecessor, Marc Ravalomanana, into exile in March 2009. The electoral commission said that with votes in from 99.37 percent of the Indian Ocean island’s polling stations, 74.13 percent had voted “Yes” on a 52.91 percent turnout. The commission said it did not expect the final outcome to change.

Political analysts said given the three main opposition parties had called for the vote to be boycotted, the turnout was respectable and would strengthen Rajoelina’s quest to legitimise his power-grab through elections. “The transitional authority will need to move fast to ‘finish the job’ as it is broke financially and needs to exit from the current situation with elections,” said Lydie Boka at political risk consultancy StrategiCo.

The new charter lowers the minimum age for a president to 35 from 40, meaning 36-year-old Rajoelina would be eligible to stand next year — even though the diplomatically isolated leader has so far said he will not run.

Madagascar’s main opposition parties, however, have not bought into the roadmap leading to the presidential poll next year and international donors have maintained calls for an inclusive political dialogue, despite the referendum. Any hopes Rajoelina had that his March 2009 takeover would at least be tolerated by the international community were dashed. The United States froze development aid and the African Union slapped sanctions on Rajoelina and 100 of his supporters.

Internationally-brokered power-sharing deals between Rajoelina and three opposition parties headed by former presidents all floundered amid bickering between the bitter rivals over top government posts. Rajoelina also came under further pressure last week when a small group of dissident army officers threatened to overthrow the government and install a military council on the same day as the referendum.

Despite government orders, the army initially refused to use force against the officers, but on Saturday Rajoelina loyalists within the security forces assaulted the barracks housing the rebels and arrested 16 soldiers. “While the coup was averted, the political terrain is still precarious, which could lead Rajoelina to take a more authoritarian stance and clamp down on opposition leaders,” said Sebastian Spio-Garbrah, chief frontier markets analyst at political risk consultancy DaMina Advisors.
“The adoption of the controversial constitution, which was rejected by the country’s three main opposition parties, will lead to further political uncertainty,” he said.