Madagascar’s interim leader wants to hold elections on the Indian Ocean island as early as May to end political and economic instability, but warned the return of its exiled former president risked stoking tensions.
Madagascar has been plagued by instability for most of the past three years. At the start of 2009, then-opposition leader Andry Rajoelina spearheaded often violent street protests against increasingly the unpopular president, Marc Ravalomanana.
Rajoelina — now head of the High Transitional Authority –seized power in March 2009 with the help of dissident army officers, but many donors branded his power grab a coup and froze non-emergency aid.
In September, major political parties signed a road map mediated by a regional bloc, the Southern African Development Community (SADC). It confirmed Rajoelina as president, allowed for the unconditional return of Ravalomanana and paved the way for elections within a year.
“Our hope is to have the elections … at the start of May,” Rajoelina told reporters at the Madagascar embassy in Paris.
The United Nations, the National Electoral Commission and the Organisation of Francophonie are to fix the date by the end of the year.
The 37-year-old Rajoelina met President Nicolas Sarkozy in Paris as he looks to improve ties with Madagascar’s former colonial ruler which suffered under the previous president who had courted Anglo-Saxon investment.
Rajoelina, who did not rule out running for the presidency, said he had accepted the plan because it offered the only route to free and fair elections acceptable to both the Malagasy people and foreign donors.
As stipulated by the road map he said a new premier had been appointed and squabbles over the allocation of ministerial posts were over, enabling a new interim government to begin working.
All but one of Madagascar’s three main opposition parties have signed the deal.
“It’s true we don’t have the same objectives, vision, but when we talk about the future of Madagascar we have to have one voice and let the people decide their leaders,” Rajoelina said.
Another former president, Didier Ratsiraka, returned to Madagascar in November, after nine years in exile in France and called for a reconciliation summit, but until now the 75-year old has declined to sign the road map accord.
Rajoelina said some opposition members were still trying to undermine the deal. He dismissed the idea of a summit and said the return from exile of Ravalomanana could have serious consequences.
“As far as Ravalomanana’s return it’s another story. It’s up to justice to decide. I am for reconciliation and pardon, but I am not for impunity,” Rajoelina said.
“It’s up to the SADC and South Africa to take a wise decision because insisting on his return to the country could generate consequences.”
Analysts say the island still faces a struggle to regain the confidence of foreign investors who had been eyeing its deposits of oil, gold and uranium.
The tourism industry has been battered by the political unrest and textile exports have also suffered after Washington ended preferential trade deals.
France has agreed to unfreeze 10 million euros in aid to Madagascar and Rajoelina said he expected the European Union to disburse some of the 600 million euros that it had blocked.