Madagascar

FAST Update Madagascar: Trends in conflict and cooperation Jan - Mar 2007

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Neither government nor non-government actions have undermined Madagascar's relative political quietude. While there was a parallel drop in cooperation compared to conflict in December 2006, this was directly tied to the presidential elections on 3 December 2006 (see graph). By January 2007 there was a return to normalcy. International events similarly rebounded as countries congratulated President Marc Ravalomanana on winning. President Ravalomanana used his new mandate to continue broadening Madagascar's ties, and donors saw the way clear to make new commitments. The elections, held under both domestic and international observation, handed President Ravalomanana a relatively easy victory with little organized protest against the process. The branches of government - legislature, executive, and judiciary - took turns congratulating each other on their successes in 2006 and the president immediately turned to new business. This was followed by efforts to neutralize all the potential sources of instability, such as the outlawing of Pety Rakotonirina (the former mayor of Fianarantsoa) and ensuring the trial of hostile factions of the army. The president secured new commitments of support from the Catholic Church. He supported investigations of Roland Ratsiraka (presidential candidate and mayor of Toamasina), the former minister of sports, and other leaders. On 4 February 2007, General "Fidy" Andrianafidisoa was sentenced to 4 years in prison for his weak coup attempt in the lead-up to the polls. The opposition tried to regroup. The once radical CNE met in January to discuss its challenge to the voter rolls while opposition candidate Jean Lahiniriko attempted to consolidate the members of the opposition together into one party. AREMA, the party of former president Didier Ratsiraka, unsuccessfully tried to reconcile its pro-Ratsiraka and pro- Rajaonarivelo wings. On 6 February the umbrella 3FN organization met to seek a new strategy. The CRN in turn broke its relations with the 3FN. The most important change came the day after President Ravalomanana's 20 January investiture, when he replaced Prime Minister Jacques Sylla with former Military Cabinet Director General Charles Rabemananjara. Most controversial during the first quarter of 2007 was the president's announcement that there would be a constitutional referendum on 4 April. Long criticized both at home and abroad for instituting a decentralization plan based on 22 "regions" rather than the autonomous provinces outlined in the 1998 constitutional change, President Ravalomanana sought to rectify the problem of parallel systems of governance. However, constitutional changes were far more comprehensive - adding English (to French and Malagasy) as a national language and allowing the president to make laws without the legislature if he declares a state of emergency. The most criticized part of these changes is associated with the reinforcement of presidential prerogatives. Constitutionally, the most sweeping was the enshrining of power in the fokonolona via the fokontany (the most local level of governance) in a hierarchical structure attached to the appointed region leadership. The president sees the fokontany as the key mechanism for implementing the new Madagascar Action Plan. The strongest criticism was that the referendum was held in such haste. Even the Catholic Church, which has sought reconciliation with a president who holds lay leadership in the Protestant FJKM, criticized the rapid timing as a proper information campaign was impossible especially in some regions which were hit by successive cyclones. The question on the referendum did not fully reflect the scope of change, asking only "Do you accept the constitution revision project for the rapid and sustainable development of each region in order to raise the Malagasy level of life?" A brief of the constitutional amendments was made available to the public via the newspapers, but the changes themselves were only distributed to leaders. The referendum passed 73.29 percent to 26.71 percent, with a low (for Madagascar) 42 percent turnout rate, yet still higher than during the adaptation of the current constitution.