Madagascar goes to polls

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Pretoria - Millions of people in Madagascar are expected to vote today on a constitutional referendum aimed at resolving the country's political crisis.

The Indian Ocean island has been in turmoil since Dj-turned-entrepreneur, Andry Rajoelina -backed by the military and a wave of popular support - seized power in a military coup from President Marc Ravalomanana in March last year.

This has resulted in hardship for the impoverished island. Western countries, including the Southern African Development Community (SADC), have frozen all but humanitarian and emergency aid and conservation projects are suffering.

The new constitution, if passed, would consolidate Rajoelina's hold on power leading up to elections next year.

It would also lower the minimum age for a presidential candidate from 40 to 35 years old. Rajoelina is 36, but has said he would not be a candidate for the presidency.

The new constitution also would require presidential candidates to live in the country for at least six months prior to the elections. This would in a way block Ravalomanana, who has been in exile since the coup.

Negotiators from both SADC and the African Union have mediated a series of power-sharing deals between Rajoelina and the main opposition leaders. However, talks aimed at ending the crisis have failed so far, because the rivals fail to agree on how to share the top posts.

In their last meeting in August, SADC agreed that sanctions in that country should continue until the country returns to constitutional normalcy.

It remains to be seen if these elections would pave the way for peace in that country.