Madagascar President resigns, unclear rule in Antananarivo

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Leadership in Madagascar is unclear as Madagascan President Marc Ravalomanana announced his resignation in favor of a military committee headed by Vice Admiral Hyppolite Ramaroson, only to have that resignation rejected by the Admiral, the military and opposition political groups. Admiral Ramaroson joined other military leaders in saying they would back opposition leader, former Antananarivo mayor and former DJ Andry Rajoelina.

After deep reflection, I have decided to dissolve the government and give up power so that a military directorate can be established

—Madagascan President Marc Ravalomanana

Mr Ravalomanana attempted to hand power over to the heads of the military, given the tasks of discussing and drafting constitutional changes, rather than transfer power to Mr Rajoelina. After the resignation was announced to the opposition, four Army generals and a head of the church were detained for reasons unknown. The true extent of the Army's loyalty to Mr Rajoelina is unclear, as reportedly the military refused to arrest President Ravalomanana despite orders from Mr Rajoelina.

Mr Rajoelina installed himself in the Presidential Palace in upper Antananarivo, which troops had seized yesterday. A cabinet loyal to him has been in operation since the end of January, when Mr Rajoelina proclaimed Mr Ravalomanana's rule to be illegitimate. The Madagascan opposition accuses Mr Ravalomanana of mismanaging the country while restricting personal freedoms.

President Ravalomanana was reportedly first announced via an text message from one of his aides before being confirmed by Ravalomanana's office in a radio broadcast, in which the President proclaimed, "After deep reflection, I have decided to dissolve the government and give up power so that a military directorate can be established". Madagascan Army Chief of Staff Colonel Andre Ndriarijaona has declared his support for Rajoelina and says that "99% of the forces are behind" the opposition leader.

Eco-tourists visit Madagascar to see its unique wildlife.
Image: Bernard Gagnon.

The African Union, meanwhile, reiterated its position that a military takeover in Madagascar would be considered a coup d'etat, which could result in "firm measures" such as Madagascar's suspension from the organization or a blocking of international aid, and urged the military to obey the country's constitution, which bars Mr Rajoelina from the presidency due to his age, and not hand power over to the former mayor, instead suggesting that power could be given to Madagascan Prime Minister General Charles Rabemananjara. Members of the Madagascan opposition say they plan to re-write the constitution and electoral code before holding new elections within two years.

While reports are that the country has been overall stable during the coup, the unrest of the past two months has deprived the country of tourist revenue. Tourism, especially eco-tourism highlighting the country's rainforests and unique mammal species, brings $800 million annually to the Madagascan economy.