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POLITICS-MADAGASCAR: Rajoelina Assumes Power

ANTANANARIVO, Mar 19 (IPS) - After 24 months as self-declared head of a transitional authority, the deposed mayor of Antananarivo, Andry Rajoelina, was confirmed as the new president of Madagascar by the Constitutional Court on Mar. 18.
After the resignation of several members of his government on Mar. 17, the Rajoelina's predecessor, Marc Ravalomanana handed power to four army generals he designated himself. The transfer of power was categorically rejected by a section of the army that had earlier staged a mutiny and by Rajoelina himself. One of the generals, Hyppolite Raharison Ramaroson, then announced they would transfer power to Rajoelina.
Norbert Lala Ratsirahonana, a lawyer who represented Rajoelina at the court, said, "The constitutional Court took note of the order giving full power to a military directorate, as well as the order transferring full authority to Andry Rajoelina. He may now exercise the powers of the President of the Republic." Ratsirahonana is also chair of the Asa Vita no Ifampitsarana (Judged By Your Work) Party, and served briefly as acting president of the country in 1996.
The young politician comes to power at the age of 34, after leading three months of street protests against his predecessor.
Rajoelina plans to celebrate his victory at the Place du 13 May on Mar. 21 to thank those who supported him in the long struggle for power and conduct a swearing-in ceremony.
This last act is seen by some analysts as unconstitutional. Jean Eric Rakotoarisoa, professor of constitutional law at the University of Antananarivo, tells IPS, "Madagascar has since Tuesday been a transitional institution of the 4th Republic. The country is out of the 3rd Republic. A swearing-in is thus not necessary because the country is operating outside of the constitution." Rakotoarisoa asserts that the former mayor can just continue the work of his predecessor.
Addressing crowds in the capital on Mar. 18, Rajoelina seemed determined to prove to his supporters that he really wants to bring change to Madagascar. His speech evoked the hopes and expectations of the people of Madagascar, a country facing great poverty. He pledged repeatedly to improve the living standards of the people of Madagascar.
The new president has promised to hold elections within 24 months. "I want to make Madagascar a leading country in Africa and the Indian Ocean. As part of this, I accept we will hold the General Assembly of the African Union here in Madagascar," he said. The AU's General Assembly is scheduled to take place in Madagascar in late June and early July of 2009.
Monja Roindefo, has taken up his duties as the new Prime Minister of the Transitional Authority. He was appointed by Rajoelina well before his accession to head of state.
But the whereabouts of former president Ravalomanana remained a question. Some witnesses living near the presidential palace in Iavoloha, 12 kilometres south of the capital, say he left the palace and took Route 7 towards the south of Madagascar. He left behind him a palace destroyed by looting. According to military sources, people around the palace invaded it shortly after Ravalomanana's delegation had left. The police eventually had to resort to summons to disperse the looters.
Meanwhile, civil society has begun meeting to discuss the post-Ravalomanana period, and the challenge of national solidarity. After the failure of talks to resolve the political crisis, civil society is proposing another kind of dialogue. "The organisation of Estates-general [a popular assembly with representatives from all walks of life] on democracy is the only way to resolve cyclical crisis in Madagascar," said Madeleine Ramaholimiaso, a member of a committee struck to prepare for the proposed assembly.
Rajoelina’s accession to power seems to be restoring confidence of opposition politicians, most of whom were under pressure from the former regime. The Arema Party, whose founding president is Admiral Didier Ratsiraka, the country’s former head of state, was the first to comment on the matter.
"We commend the military for their efforts to liberate the country and we hope the new president of the transitional authority will focus on the plight of exiles and political prisoners," says Samuel Ralaidovy, Arema’s National Coordinator.
Officials from several ministries have also come forward and local committees in support of the new leader are mushrooming everywhere, to show support for the new leader.
But the response from the international community so far has not been positive. The Zambian foreign minister, Kabinga Pande, said Rajoelina represented "a setback and danger to the entrenchment of democracy and constitutional rule on the continent." Following a special meeting of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) in Swaziland on Mar. 19, the regional body decided not to recognise Rajoelina as president, calling for a return to "democratic and constitutional rule in the shortest time possible". The African Union is set to discuss its reaction on Mar. 20.
To encourage his supporters, Rajoelina announced that foreign investors already want to come to Madagascar for tourism projects. Analysts say the new young president, the youngest in Madagascar’s history, has ambition but his way is still fraught with pitfalls.


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