“The crisis has lasted for too long”, says Jean-Omer Beriziky, Prime minister of the coalition government appointed last November. His job is to bring the transition to a safe end after free and fair elections which would restore the constitutional order interrupted in 2009 with the coup which overthrew President Marc Ravalomanana. The roadmap to democracy was signed in September 2011 by most Malagasy parties, except that of former President Didier Ratsiraka.
But Beriziky’s task is a difficult one. Indeed, the pro-Ravalomanana ministers are boycotting cabinet meetings. They are demanding the unconditional return of their leader who lives in exile in South Africa. The former president was sentenced in 2010 to life imprisonment by a Malagasy court which found him guilty of “crimes against humanity”, considering he was responsible for the massacre by Presidential guards of 30 demonstrators on the 7 February 2009. The government is divided but all political groups who are supposed to support it are also divided.
The army, which initially backed the 2009 coup, is no longer united either. Some officers such as Colonel Charles Andrianasoavina, the former commander of a special intervention force, defected and was sentenced in absentia last March to forced labour for his alleged participation in a coup attempt in 2010. Since then, at least four mutiny attempts involving senior and junior officers have occurred. At the same time, the prestige of the army and of the police is eroded by the rising insecurity on the country main roads and in the capital, Antanarivo. Sapphire dealers going to the Ambatodrazaka mine, 160 km to the north-east of the capital, are particularly targeted. In the South, the dahalo – cattle rustlers – are posing an increasing threat. In June, a group led by former convict Remena Bila killed 12 military and policemen.
In principle, presidential elections are scheduled for May and July. The problem however is that 37 years old Rajoelina fears that his adversary may come back and participate in the presidential race. Rajoelina, a former DJ, is fully aware that since his group retains the main portfolios in the government, he is held as the first responsible for the crisis by the population. Rajoelina still boasts support of many generals who fear Ravalomanana’s possible return and more than probable revenge against them.
UN experts are fully aware of the risk of new clashes in the event of Ravalomanana’s return. The potential for violence would be probably highest if both main actors are candidates they say. But would an election make sense without the two main players? For the time being, nobody has given an answer to the question. The Southern African Development Community (SADC) has been trying to organize a meeting between the two politicians to unlock the situation, with considerable difficulties. Rajoelina has taken all possible pretexts to avoid the meeting, even preferring to travel to the Rio Earth Summit in June rather than see his rival eye to eye. Eventually, the SADC managed to organize two meetings in the Seychelles in July and August. The two enemies were again called for a third meeting during the last SADC summit in Maputo on August 17th. These attempts failed to bring results. As expected the stumbling block is the issue of Ravalomana’s return.
SADC’s strategy will now consist in trying to organize discussions in larger forums including other Malagasy players. Before the Maputo summit, a SADC troika led by the South African deputy foreign minister Marius Fransman went to Madagascar to meet the main social and political forces including representative of political parties, high-ranking military, religious, civil society and traditional leaders in order to discuss with them how to arrange for Ravalomanana’s return and a safe preparation of the elections.
SADC leaders are also planning to organise a summit over the issue within two or three months with all the main Malagasy stakeholders. But it won’t be an easy game. Indeed, in June, SADC proposed the Council of the Christian Churches of Madagascar (FFKM) – which brings together Calvinists, Lutherans, Anglicans and Catholics – to mediate. However, no one accepts the Calvinist Church as neutral, since its vice-president is Marc Ravalomanana himself.
One of the consequences of the failed mediation attempts by SADC is real fatigue within the organisation and a growing feeling that neither Rajoelina nor Ravalomanana, who are increasingly seen as factors of blockade, should participate to the elections. But again, on what grounds would both politicians be deprived of their right to contest the presidency? The question remains unanswered. At any rate, many Malagasy doubt that the elections will necessarily mean a wait out of the crisis. Maurice Beranto, an adviser to the Prime Minister says that institutional arrangements or political deals are not the solution. The real issue is the behaviour of Malagasy politicians who forget to often to respect the Tenera, the given word, which is at the heart of the traditional value of the Malagasy culture.