PM says situation is ‘under control’ despite coup claims
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Madagascar’s prime minister Camilla Vital (photo) said all was under control on the island following a declaration by a group of army officers that they had attempted a coup d’état. The country voted Wednesday on a referendum for a new constitution.
In an interview with FRANCE 24, Madagascar’s prime minister, General Camille Vital, said that the situation in his country was “under control”, after soldiers earlier in the day declared they had taken power.
Earlier on Wednesday, Madagascar's President Andry Rajoelina vowed to take action against the mutinous soldiers who declared they had seized power and that the government was suspended.
But Rajoelina dismissed the claim. "There are intentions to cause trouble by some people who want to block the transition... The government will assume its responsibilites and consequently take action," he told reporters.
"There is a meeting currently at the prime minister's office with the military,” he continued. “They will determine what action is to be taken."
Around 20 military officers said on Wednesday that they had seized power in Madagascar, while a vote on a referendum for a new constitution was underway in the island nation. The alleged coup leaders said they had dissolved the government and formed a ruling military committee in its place.
“From now on all institutions are suspended and a military committee is going to run the country,” said General Noel Rakotonandrasana, who led a mutiny last year and supported then opposition leader Rajoelina in his power grab. Rakotonandrasana spoke from a military camp near the airport of capital Antananarivo, roughly 15 kilometres from the city.
The general’s declaration had no apparent repercussions in the capital during the day until later Wednesday, when skirmishes between police officers and several hundred anti-government protesters briefly broke out near the airport.
Meanwhile, Franck Ramarosaona, a political scientist and executive editor of daily newspaper Le Courrier de Madagascar, told France24.com that the country's prime minister, General Camille Vital was planning an operation to quell the rebellion.
Madagascar has been engulfed in a deep political crisis since December 2008, when Andry Rajoelina, then mayor of Antananarivo, led a movement against unpopular President Marc Ravalomanana. Under pressure from both the army and civilians, Ravalomanana handed over power to a military leader who, in turn, transferred leadership of the island nation to Rajoelina.
A coup attempt at a crucial moment
The attempted coup comes at a key time for Madagascar, as nearly eight million of the island’s citizens headed to the polls on Wednesday to vote on a referendum for a new constitution. If approved by the people, the text would allow 36-year-old Rajoelina to set his sights on the presidency, which has until now been reserved for candidates over 40.
The referendum vote has been presented by Rajoelina’s camp as the first step to the end of the political crisis that has paralysed the country for the past two years. Legislative and presidential elections are expected to be organised for 2011. “This referendum is a date with history,” said Augustin Andriamananoro, director of the campaign to vote “yes”. “The new constitution will correct the errors of the past concerning abuses of power and would establish a social contract between leaders and citizens.”
Rajoelina looking for legitimacy
According to many observers, however, the vote is only a way of reinforcing the interim president’s power. “The referendum is a forced manœuvre by Rajoelina to further strengthen his power and obtain legitimacy,” said Ramarosaona. “You just had to see the campaign: it was based on Rajoelina himself, not on the referendum,” he continued.
“The opposition did not succeed in making itself heard [during the campaign on the referendum],” added Philippe Hugon, director of research on Africa at the Institute of International and Strategic Relations (IRIS). “The ‘yes’ votes will likely prevail. But turnout could be low, which would deprive Rajoelina of the legitimacy he is seeking.”
Indeed, despite a referendum campaign that often seemed as omnipresent as a presidential campaign – T-shirts were distributed, grand promises made, and high-profile political meetings called – the vote did not arouse much enthusiasm among the people of Madagascar.
As of late Wednesday morning, unofficial figures showed that only 18 percent of voters had shown up at the 18,000 polling stations on the island. The day before the referendum, leaders in favour of the new constitution said they were expecting more than 40 percent turnout.
“There is a great fatigue amongst the people of Madagascar,” Ramarosaona told France24.com from Madagascar. “I fear a new crisis, as violent as the one in 2002 [which resulted in 100 people being killed in riots that broke out at the time of the presidential election].”
The discontent on the island is exacerbated by increasing unemployment and a catastrophic economic situation. The country, one of the poorest in the world, has been sinking further and further into an economic crisis since the EU, France, the US, and the UN suspended their aid in the wake of Rajoelina’s power grab in 2009.