Madagascar: Crisis Heating Up?

While the reality and extent of the coup announced earlier this week by military officers is still uncertain, the latest events demonstrate the fragility of the situation in Madagascar and the urgent need for a new international strategy to end the long crisis. Negotiations should now focus on international support to the electoral process based on strict conditions.

Madagascar: Crisis Heating Up?, the latest International Crisis Group report, examines the international and national mediation attempts that failed, leaving a political standoff. The High Authority of the Transition (HAT), the regime led by Andry Rajoelina that took power in early 2009 and conducted a referendum yesterday whose anticipated passage is intended to legitimate its plans, is considered illegitimate by the opposition and the international community, which also do not accept its roadmap for escaping the crisis. The support of opportunistic political parties creates a misleading impression of inclusiveness, but the regime is in full control of the process.

“Madagascar is in a precarious equilibrium, corruption is soaring, and there is a severe danger of social explosion”, said Charlotte Larbuisson, Crisis Group’s Southern Africa Analyst. “The population is becoming poorer, and the state’s structures are crumbling. The extent and even reality of the military coup that some officers announced yesterday is still uncertain, but only credible elections can restore the constitutional order and revive the economy”.

Mediation aimed at an inclusive transition has failed because of a general refusal to compromise. Actors who might have helped unlock the stalemate have been unable or unwilling to do so, and some have deliberately dragged out the situation to their advantage. If the authorities persist with organising elections unilaterally in 2011, the international community will likely refuse to recognise the new regime. The crisis could then last several years, but Madagascar cannot afford to be isolated from the rest of the world.

The priority must be for the Southern African Development Community (SADC), backed by the International Contact Group, and the de facto authorities to reach agreement that international support will be forthcoming for the electoral process but only if the regime fulfills key commitments. These should include Rajoelina’s confirmation that he will not stand in the elections; revision of the electoral timeline; transparency on contracts; the government to act only as caretaker; promulgation of the amnesty law foreseen in previous, unimplemented agreements; and an audit of state finances by international financial institutions. If these are violated, the EU, U.S. and others, working through the UN Security Council if possible, should reinforce targeted sanctions against spoilers that the African Union has already adopted.

The Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) should be fully in charge of the elections but strengthened and reconstituted so it can organise them properly and credibly. The UN Secretariat should quickly send an electoral assessment mission to determine when the polls can be held and deploy a team to help the CENI. Consideration should also be given to appointing international commissioners, and international observers should deploy early. The International Contact Group should meet as soon as possible in order to coordinate international efforts.

“The priority now is to get out of the crisis and only then initiate much needed reforms”, said Ernst Jan Hogendoorn, acting Africa Program Director. “The authorities claim they want credible elections, not least to earn international recognition. For that, they need to offer the opposition the necessary guarantees of a level electoral field and keep to them. Only that can avoid a disaster for the country and its population”.

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