AP/Jerome Delay
Antananarivo Mayor Andry Rajoelina gestures to supporters after an antigovernment rally in
Antananarivo, Madagascar, Saturday, Jan. 31, 2009. (AP)

Madagascar’s Leadership in Doubt After Rajoelina Claims Control

February 01, 2009 12:09 PM
by findingDulcinea Staff
The leader of the opposition party claims to be in power, which the elected president denies; meanwhile, dozens have died in a week of violent protests.

African Union Warns Madagascar

Opposition leader Andry Rajoelina claimed he was in charge of Madagascar’s government at a rally on Saturday. President Marc Ravalomanana has told reporters that isn’t true, Reuters reports. In the last week, 100 people have died during violent protests led by Rajoelina’s opposition party.

Meanwhile, the African Union has reminded Rajoelina and Madagascar that there are rules against coups. The organization has already prohibited two other African states, Guinea and Mauritania, from an upcoming three-day summit. Those two nations have had military coups during the last several months, Reuters said.

“We ask them (the Malagasy people) to cool down, to keep talking and to solve their problems with negotiation,” said Jean Ping, the African Union Commission chairman, in an interview with Reuters. 

Protests started early last week, and by Monday all broadcasting in the island nation stopped after political opposition set fire to the country’s official broadcasting complex. Rajoelina, who is mayor of the country’s capital, Antananarivo, led the protests against the government, which he has stated is a threat to democracy.

The Associated Press reports speculations that the absence of police and firefighters at the protests could indicate that they were in favor of the demonstration. Protestors also burned an oil station and a private TV station connected with President Ravalomanana. Additionally, they looted and destroyed buildings on the broadcast complex. Despite the mayhem, Ravalomanana has insisted that order will be restored.

Rajoelina decided to halt the protests after what the Mail and Guardian called the worst instance of street violence the country had seen in years. He and Ravalomanana were scheduled to meet and discuss the current crisis, but Rajoelina backed out after a member of the opposition was killed by a member of the military.

Background: Political climate in Madagascar

Rajoelina ran as an independent against the current president’s party during the 2007 race for mayor. Since taking office in Antananarivo, he has become an outspoken opponent of the regime. He has called the current government a “dictatorship,” the AFP reports, and has led a number of protests against the government. During a rally on Saturday, Rajoelina urged people to persevere over military forces and to mount a general strike. The most recent round of protests is part of an ongoing response to Ravalomanana’s decision to shut down Rajoelina’s TV station, Viva, after Rajoelina broadcast an interview with an old political rival of the President’s, Didier Ratsiraka.

In 2002, Ravalomanana declared himself the country’s leader after what he claimed was a corrupt election denied him victory. The then-incumbent president, Didier Ratsiraka, had agreed to a second round of voting, reported. The government refused to validate the declaration, and Ravalomanana faced the threat of becoming an international criminal.

However, after months of violence and economic instability, Ratsiraka fled to France. According to the U.S. Department of State, Ravalomanana began an era of reform and has consistently attempted to decentralize government and empower leaders in smaller provinces. But considerable political unrest continues in the region.

Further information about the country’s political structure and electoral history is available in detail from the U.S. State Department.

Related Topic: Freedom of press compromised throughout Asia

Meanwhile, in the neighboring continent of Asia, threats to press freedom are becoming increasingly ubiquitous. Leaders throughout the region are limiting private broadcasting and journalism. Earlier in January, Thailand blocked 2,300 Web sites that were allegedly insulting to the king. The week before, two newspaper editors were fired in Vietnam for covering a case of government corruption. 

On Monday, for the third time in the last 12 months, a newspaper publisher was expelled from Fiji for publishing a letter to the editor that allegedly was offensive to the government.

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