Deconstructing a crisis: Part Two

The power tussle between Madagascar's President Marc Ravalomanana and the charismatic Andry Rajoelina, former mayor of the capital, Antananarivo, has already claimed more than 100 lives since 26 January – what is behind the violence, and what happens next?

The following is the final installment of a two-part series in which IRIN asked three analysts to examine the political standoff. 

For Part One click here.

The three analysts are:

• Richard Marcus (RM), Director of the International Studies Programme at California State University, in the US.

• Solofo Randrianja (SR), professor of Political History, University of Toamasina, Madagascar.

• Stephen Ellis (SE), professor in the faculty of social sciences at the Free University of Amsterdam and Senior researcher at the Africa Study Centre in Leiden, the Netherlands.

A hand overplayed?

Richard Marcus: "Rajoelina appeared well-placed to start a social movement. In Madagascar it is possible to measure political change by social movements big and small. The frightening difference between 2002 [in which Ravalomanana came to power in a dramatic election victory] on the one hand and 2009 on the other was that Rajoelina began eroding government viability without offering a real alternative.

Where he has consistently called for a “Transitional Government” it is unclear what he is seeking to transition to. Rajoelina is young, lacks a significant enough base in the capital, lacks virtually any base outside of the capital, doesn’t have the resources Ravalomanana had in 2002, and lacks the experience to lead a movement.

Where there is a significant regime challenge, particularly in the capital, the seeds are sewn for a coup. It hasn’t happened. It is highly unlikely it will.”

Stephen Ellis: “It becomes hard to see a way forward under present circumstances. Recent events have seriously undermined the legitimacy of President Ravalomanana. But the chance of [Rajoelina] taking over the government other than through an electoral process appears to me to be close to zero. If he were to leave the political scene, discontent would certainly find another outlet or leader in the course of time.”

Solofo Randrianja: “Ravalomanana is negotiating with different partners on the way to neutralize a social movement [which as been confined to] parts of the capital. Now in exchange for peace and tranquility, majority of the population is ready to give a blank check to Ravalomanana."

Behind the movement

RM: There was no surprise that Rajoelina could marshal 40,000 followers on January 17. The surprise is the violence that followed. For Rajoelina’s movement to become more violent beyond Antananarivo he would have to be able to build a base of support rapidly while eschewing the popular support growing for his arrest. That doesn’t seem likely.

Chronology of a political standoff

26 January (2009): Antananarivo mayor Andry Rajoelina spearheads anti-government protests. Violence and looting leave up to 40 people dead.

28 January: Thousands of opposition supporters take to the streets again in protest against President Ravalomanana.

3 February: Rajoelina is deposed as Mayor of Antananarivo.

4 February: Crowds protest the Mayor’s sacking. Rajoelina reiterates his plans to install a transitional government.

7 February: Presidential guards open fire on thousands of opposition supporters spurred by Rajoelina's calls for a transitional government. 28 people loose their lives and hundreds more are left wounded.

10 February: Ravalomanana and Rajoelina agree to talks under the auspices of the United Nations.
16 February: Security forces deployed in the city, preventing thousands of demonstrators from accessing government ministries.

17 February: Military promises not to seize power.

19 February: Representatives from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) arrive in Madagascar to facilitate talks between the feuding president and opposition leader.

Rajoelina has tried to turn January 2009 into January 2002 but with Ravalomanana playing the role of former President Didier Ratsiraka [ousted by Ravalomanana after 26 years in office]: the anti-democrat, the oppressor, and plague on the populace. There are marked differences however: there was no election legitimating Rajoelina and, most importantly, Rajoelina is not a national leader. He is a lightening rod for a broad array of leaders and populace who share little in common other than their discontent

Rajoelina has formed a veritable “anyone but Ravalomanana” club that includes both the old radical and moderate movements. His support isn’t broad but he has dug important roots in the private sector and in civil society. Ravalomanana can change the status quo and open up the government to political competition."

SE: "Roland Ratsiraka, nephew of the former president, has allied himself to Rajoelina. The emergence of opposition in the main provincial cities also suggests that provincial politicians of the Ratsiraka era are using the current events to attempt a comeback."

RM: "Indirectly [Ratsiraka] is a factor. Indeed, it was playing a statement of Ratsiraka’s that got Viva [Rajoelina’s radio/TV station] shut down by Marc Ravalomanana in December. That action marked the beginning of this conflict. Other old politicians are also indirect factors. The “old guard” is too old but Rajoelina has become a lightening rod for the next generation of opposition."

International pressure

SE: “It is unclear whether Rajoelina has international support: foreign powers seem to support the current president, who was after all duly elected and who also seems unlikely to be toppled in the short term.”

SR: “Investors will be more cautious in the future certainly. International partners cannot support a movement which is erecting an illegal parallel government.”

RM: “The action by the World Bank and the European Union to suspend budgetary support in December [2008] was a good first step in recognizing the power of the international community and it serves as a pressure on Ravalomanana to choose reform over further centralization. Andry TGV’s [Rajoelina's nickname] challenge is a beginning not an end even if the challenger himself gets consigned to a violent footnote.

Changing the status quo

RM: "What could Ravalomanana do to change the status quo to open up political competition? He could critically throw open the doors to true scrutiny of the mining and emergent oil sector. Perhaps most importantly Ravalomanana could stop altering institutions to suit his purpose but rather alter his purpose to strengthen institutions that will survive well beyond his tenure. This would include, for instance, more transparent and consistent budget processes between the state, region, and commune level of government. There is a lot he can do.

The other tact President Marc Ravalomanana could take it to further minimize transparency and competition. This “circle the wagons” approach will limit further challenges to his authority but it is a dangerous game. It risks radicalizing an opposition that lacks a centrality of purpose, a consensus of leadership, and the capacity to participate in an institutional process.

While Rajoelina has lost momentum, and is already headed towards isolation, it is possible for a radical opposition to drive government to lose governability without a clear mode of succession."