Madagascar: Military takes sides, Joins a puzzling embroglio

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The tug of war between Andry Rajoelina and Marc Ravalomanana might be drawing to an end, as an order from the opposition leader to arrest the President has seen the country’s security forces raid the presidential palace in the center of the Madagascan capital of Antanarivo. The opposition’s Minister of Justice, Christine Razanamahsoa, had earlier on issued an arrest warrant for “high treason” against the head of state. The African Union has launched an emergency meeting to help restore order in the country.

Sporadic gunshots and sounds of heavy artillery brought the Malagasy capital, Antanarivo to a virtual standstill, Monday. As the evening drew on, the military entered into a deserted presidential palace. Soldiers took positions and ordered the remaining staff out of the government offices.

Earlier in the day the political crisis in Madagascar showed no signs of waning as it continued what had come to be described as a protracted political unrest by the media. Andry Rajoelina, the Malagasy opposition leader, and the president, Marc Ravalomanana, had vowed not to compromise their positions as the country moved deeper into anarchy.

Early Monday, Andry Rajoelina ordered “the police to arrest the head of state”, in a speech given in front of his supporters in the center of Antananarivo, the capital of Madagascar. “I am asking the police to implement, without delay, the orders of the justice minister of the transitional government appointed by the opposition,” he said, albeit the army’s declaration, last Sunday, that they would not storm the presidential palace militarily. According to Colonel André Andriarijaona, Chief of Staff of the armed forces,”We do not want further confrontation,” he had told the French daily, Le Monde.

A little before Rajoelina’s order Christine Razanamahsoa had indicated that an arrest warrant for “high treason” had been issued against Marc Ravalomanana, the constitutional President.

The African Union acts

Faced with this political impasse, the Peace and Security Council of the African Union (AU), Monday, launched an “emergency meeting” in Addis Ababa to find a lasting solution to the political crisis. Their primary objective is to work on a joint statement with respect to the latest developments in Madagascar. Following the United Nation’s failure, it is incumbent on the AU to be to convince Marc Ravalomanana and Andry Rajoelina to settle their dispute before the unrest blows out of proportion.

It is unknown if the President’s supporters will also take the same action as Rajoelina’s supporters should he be ousted through an unconstitutional action.

Renewing his appeal to the Malagasy people, Jean Ping, chairman of the AU Commission, asked them to “exercise restraint.” He also reiterated “AU’s determination”, in close collaboration with its partners, including the United Nations and the Francophonie, “to do everything in their power” to help the malagasy politicians bring the current crisis to a peaceful end. The AU has been a fervent opposer of unconstitutional attempts to seize power in the Indian Ocean Island as it prepares to stage the next summit of the organization in July.

Rebellious Andry Rajoelina

The AU’s statement fell on deaf ears. In his relentless efforts to get rid of his sworn enemy, the opposition leader, Monday, again called on his supporters to come together to force the president, Marc Ravalomanana, to resign. Rajoelina blatantly rejected a proposed national referendum by the president of Madagascar. “We are not interested in this referendum,” he said early Monday upon his arrival at the headquarters of the Malagasy Radio and Television network. The opposition leader claimed that a referendum would be rigged. Speaking to Le Monde, General Philippe Désiré Ramakave a close Andry Rajoelina ally said “The president still controls vast networks within the administration and will control the votes from the most remote parts of the country …”

“I will remain in power. I am not afraid of a referendum…”

Sunday, the president affirmed his readiness to hold a referendum to resolve the political standoff while insisting that he still remains the constitutionally elected president. “I remain in power. I am not afraid of a referendum if necessary”, the Head of State said in front of 5000 supporters who had gathered outside the presidential palace. But according to observers, the Malagasy president only remained in power to buy time to safeguard his vast economic interests in the country as part of his family had already moved out to settle in neighboring countries.

Last Saturday, the conflict between the president and the leader of the opposition was taken to another dimension when Andry Rajoelina proclaimed that he “controlled” both the army and the “Higher transitional authority”. He also said that he would hold “free and fair” elections within two years.

For the time being, President Ravalomanana is reported to be safe at the second presidential palace ten kilometers outside the capital. But the puzzle of two heads of state might too intricate for the volatile southern African country to handle.

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