MADAGASCAR: International community deserts Rajoelina
Antananarivo, 23 March 2009 (IRIN) - Andry Rajoelina's attempt to legitimize his rule as Madagascar's president by holding his inauguration on 21 March is serving to galvanize international opposition to his new administration.
Rajoelina, the former mayor of the capital, Antananarivo, ousted the elected president, Marc Ravalomanana, with the backing of the military, claiming his rise was the "popular will" of the Malagasy.
Foreign diplomats were conspicuous by their absence at the Antananarivo inauguration. The island state is heavily dependent on donor funding for its administration and the US - one of the biggest foreign donors - and Norway have already frozen aid in protest of the manner in which Rajoelina attained power.
The African Union suspended Madagascar from the organization on 20 March and the 15-member state regional body, the Southern African Development Community (SADC), of which the island state is a member, has refused to recognize Rajoelina's presidency and is threatening to impose sanctions. France, the former colonial power, dismissed Rajoelina presidency as "a coup d'état".
"Of course it's a coup d'état. I greatly regret what has happened in Madagascar and I call for elections as soon as possible, which is the only way out of this imbroglio," French President Nicholas Sarkozy told media in Brussels on 20 March. "And I note that the first decision taken was to shut the parliament, which is not an extremely positive sign."
Rajoelina told local media on 23 March he had popular support, but refused to hold a snap poll and again committed to holding elections within two years. "It's the Malagasy people who decide what happens in Madagascar," he said. Prior to Rajoelina's assumption of power, elections were scheduled for 2011.
Fanja Ratsimbazafy, secretary-general of the Malagasy Red Cross, told IRIN: "In Madagascar as much as 70 percent of government funds come from foreign donors and different aid organisations.
"If these donors decide to stop all aid for Madagascar, the country could face a big social and economic problem. If the government cannot afford development programmes, the population could take to the streets again to demand more change."
According to diplomatic sources, Rajoelina's popularity outside of Antananarivo remains untested.
In Toliara, Madagascar's main port, about 1,000km southwest of Antananarivo, a resident who declined to be named told IRIN: "It's crazy - someone who isn't even voted into power can take control of the whole country. On the streets in Tulear [local name for Toliara] people don't even know who he [Rajoelina] is."
David Zounmenou, a senior researcher at a South African think-tank, the Institute for Security Studies, told IRIN that Rajoelina had "misread the politics of the day and will find it very difficult to manoeuvre."
A fragile president
He said the power-brokers behind Rajoelina's presidency were his father, a colonel in the army, former president Didier Ratsiraka and his nephew Roland Ratsiraka, the former mayor of Toamasina, a town on the east coast.
Didier Ratsiraka lost the presidency to Ravalomanana in disputed elections in 2001, which pushed the country to the edge of civil war.
|Without a doubt there is going to be a period of chaos for the new government at an administrative level
Counter protests to Rajoelina's presidency took place in Antananarivo on the day of his inauguration, which was conducted with heavy military presence, according to reports.
A businessman in Antananarivo, who declined to be named, told IRIN: "Without a doubt there is going to be a period of chaos for the new government at an administrative level.
"If Rajoelina loses the support of the elements of the armed forces that are backing him, he will be left in a very fragile position," he said.
"Many people wanted to see Mr Ravalomanana go," the businessman commented. "But they are not sure that Mr Rajoelina will be an improvement."