afrol News, 16 November - Twenty months after Andry Rajoelina's coup in Madagascar, a constitutional referendum is to legitimise his rule and hinder ousted leaders to get back to power. The referendum will not change Madagascar's international isolation.
Malagasy voters tomorrow are given a "yes" or "no" choice of approving the country's new draft constitution, penned by the "High Transitional Authority" of coup President Raojelina. Opposition forces did not participate in writing the draft and have been united in their protest against the referendum.
The new constitution, if approved, would legitimise the powers of Mr Rajoelina. First, it lowers the minimum age of a Malagasy President from 40 to 35 years. Mr Rajoelina, a former DJ, is 36 years old.
Second, the draft authorises the rule of a transitional government, setting no time limit for its existence. While it foresees the holding of elections within 12 months, it would not prevent Mr Rajoelina from extending his "transitional" mandate and postpone elections.
Most important, the proposed constitution would ban most of Madagascar's main political leaders from standing candidate in upcoming elections. The text foresees that any candidate must have lived for at least six months in Madagascar prior to the elections. Toppled President Marc Ravalomanana and other main opposition leaders are living in exile.
Ex-President Ravalomanana and two of his predecessors - all being part of the failed South African-brokered negotiations to bring Madagascar back to constitutional rule - have strongly protested the referendum, describing it as "illegal".
Since the coup, Madagascar has been suspended by the African Union (AU) and Southern African Development Community (SADC), while major donors such as the European Union (EU) and the US have suspended their large aid and trade programmes.
Demands by the international community for a return to constitutional order were earlier this year addressed by the South African-brokered negotiations. Foreign partners expected a solution to come about in agreement between Mr Rajoelina and ex-President Ravalomanana and other opposition forces.
The coup government's unilateral announcement it was to organise a constitutional referendum and later elections were protested by the international community, urging Mr Rajoelina to get back to the negotiating table. The AU, SADC and donors are not expected to treat an expected "yes" to the draft constitution as a return to the constitutional order and therefore maintain sanctions.
Mr Rajoelina's call to the international society to send election observers has also remained unanswered, reflecting the view that the referendum is "illegal". Only seven French parliamentarians have jetted into Madagascar to observe the poll, but the French government has underlined that these MPs only act as "private persons".
Meanwhile, there are fears that the "illegal" referendum may cause new unrest on the Great Island. While Mr Ravalomanana's party Tiako i Madagasikara and other opposition parties have called on their followers to remain calm but to boycott the referendum, the armed forces are preparing for the worst. Alain Ramaroson yesterday announced that "his troops" would shoulder with police during the referendum to deal with any disturbances.
Transitional leader Rajoelina during the last week has toured the country to promote a "yes" vote, promising Malagasy voters that this would end the political crisis and isolation of the country. Tiako i Madagasikara meanwhile claims Mr Rajoelina is bribing poor families into voting "yes" by handing out food aid.
Observers expect Mr Rajoelina to secure a "yes" vote, but do not believe any of Madagascar's problems will be solved by a new constitution. The deep political divide will continue and Mr Rajoelina's rule will remain to be seen as unconstitutional by the opposition and international partners.
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