Madagascar

Q+A - Is Madagascar plunging deeper into political crisis?

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By Richard Lough

ANTANANARIVO, Dec 19 (Reuters) - Madagascar's leader fired his prime minister on Friday further denting hopes of forming a power-sharing government.

WHAT'S THE LATEST?

- President Andry Rajoelina sacked the prime minister he appointed in October under heavy international pressure. Eugene Mangalaza's nomination had been part of a power-sharing deal with Rajoelina's political rivals.

- Vice Prime Minister Cecile Manorohanta steps in indefinitely. Manorohanta quit as former President Marc Ravalomanana's defence minister when dozens of opposition supporters were gunned down in Antananarivo in the run up to the March coup. She sided with Rajoelina shortly afterwards.

- Rajoelina says negotiations on a unity government are finished and has called parliamentary elections for March. He has told international mediators not to involve themselves any further in Madagascar's problems.

- Opposition leaders said on Friday they would form a consensus government within days and name parliamentarians to sit in an interim national assembly. They say Mangalaza remains the consensus prime minister.

- Former President Albert Zafy called on the military to remain neutral and stay in their barracks.

WHAT MIGHT HAPPEN NEXT?

- In an overnight statement, Rajoelina, a 35 year-old former disc jockey, threatened to hit the opposition with heavy fines or prison sentences. He has denounced their actions as tantamount to a coup d'etat. Rajoelina's administration previously locked up a number of close allies of Ravalomanana in the aftermath of the coup. All were later released.

- Rajoelina says he will scrap the transitional institutions mapped out in earlier power-sharing agreements. The ministers he appointed in September, violating the initial peace accords, will remain in office.

- If both sides live up to their rhetoric, Madagascar will have two parallel governments, neither of which will be internationally recognised. There is a sense of deja-vu: Rajoelina employed the same strategy as he slowly undermined Ravalomanana's authority prior to this year's coup.

- Analysts say there is little hope of getting Rajoelina back to the negotiating table.

COULD THE MILITARY GET INVOLVED?

- The military claims publicly to be neutral with no business meddling in political affairs.

- But Rajoelina grabbed power after rogue elements of the armed forces backed his challenge to Ravalomanana's leadership. One chief backer now heads the army while another is minister for the Armed Forces. Analysts say he generally retains the military's loyalty although observers say there are internal divisions.

- Some military sources say Ravalomanana and another former president, Didier Ratsiraka, still hold small pockets of support among troops.

WILL THE ECONOMY SUFFER?

- The latest developments will anger foreign donors who have insisted on a consensus government and a roadmap to free and fair elections before unblocking aid worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Madagascar's treasury is heavily reliant on budgetary support from outside.

- Further instability will likely unsettle foreign investors already rattled by the turmoil. Multinational companies such as oil giant Exxon Mobil <XOM.N> have suspended their activities while awaiting a stable, legitimate government. Officials say foreign direct investment has slowed dramatically this year.

- President Barack Obama will decide whether to revoke Madagascar's membership of the AGOA trade deal that underpins the country's $600 million textiles sector. This latest political bust-up gives those officials fighting Madagascar's corner little to work with. Up to half a million jobs are directly or indirectly at stake. [[ID:nLH725702]

- Nor will there be much comfort for the island's tourism sector, which has been worth $390 million a year and is just beginning to see the first signs of recovery since the crisis broke out.

(Editing by Jon Hemming)

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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