Rejecting President Marc Ravalomanana’s proposal for a referendum to end Madagascar’s violent political crisis, opposition leader Andry Rajoelina instead called for his arrest March 16. As explosions were heard in the capital Antananarivo, the military intervened, seizing key government buildings. The military passed power to Rajoelina, a former mayor of Antananarivo who led weeks of angry protests demanding Ravalomanana’s ouster.
The High Constitutional Court of Madagascar announced in a radio address March 18 that it would accept the military’s decision to install Rajoelina as president. The court approved the presidency of 34-year-old Rajoelina despite a requirement in Madagascar’s constitution that the president be at least 40 years of age, declaring that his presidency would be legal for a maximum two-year term.
The African Union initially decried the power transfer as an “attempted coup,” but later statements removed any mention of the word “coup,” but called on called on the transitional government to “comply scrupulously with the provisions of the constitution of Madagascar on interim arrangements.”
Madagascar has faced increasing political violence over the last two months leading to dozens of deaths. In February the police opened fire on anti-Ravalomanana demonstrators, killing 28. Rajoelina was fired as mayor of Antananarivo in late January following his declaration that he was in charge of Madagascar and his failed efforts to impeach Ravalomanana. Much of the public unrest stemmed from criticisms that Ravalomanana failed to alleviate poverty, as well as his unpopular decision to shut down a TV station owned by Rajoelina after the station aired an interview with one of Ravalomanana’s former adversaries.
ExxonMobil, the French Total and Rio Tinto Group have oil and mineral interests in Madagascar, which has rich deposits of iron ore and bauxite. Investors have hailed Ravalomanana’s free-market reforms, while Rajoelina accused him of running Madagascar like a dictator, and letting his people starve. Most of the island’s population live on less than $2 a day. In January, the International Monetary Fund reportedly froze a loan tranche worth $12 million while investigating Ravalomanana’s purchase of a new presidential plane, questioning whether it had complied with budgetary law. (Jurist, CNN, Forbes, March 18; The Independent, March 17; IRIN, March 16)