Africa, Civil Society, Headlines

MADAGASCAR: Closed-Door Talks Over Political Impasse

Fanja Saholiarisoa

ANTANANARIVO, Feb 26 2009 (IPS) - Both parties agreed not to release any details after a second direct meeting between President Marc Ravalomanana and his principal opponent, Andry Rajoelina, the deposed mayor of Madagascar’s capital Antananarivo, on Feb. 23 with no official being issued.

“We began discussing the substantive issues during our second meeting, which is a big step towards resolving the crisis. A third meeting is already in sight,” says Bishop Odon Razanakolona, chief mediator and president of the Council of Christian Churches (known by its Malagache acronym, FFKM), declining to give further comment as he left the meeting.

But the deposed mayor and leader of the public demonstration has suspended all public meetings at the Place du 13 Mai since the start of the direct talks on Feb. 21. The face-to-face encounter with the president of Madagascar is considered a victory by Rajoelina’s supporters, while others see in it the possibility of answers being found to the crisis gripping the Great Island for over a month.

President Ravalomanana said he was satisfied with the opening of the round table talks which he said proceeded calmly under strict surveillance. “I congratulate members of FFKM for their willingness to seek a resolution to this crisis. As I have always said, I am open to discussion because dialogue is the only way to find solutions to our current problems.”

Speaking on national television, the head of state said, “It is not a question of who wins or who loses, for we are all one family.” He added that everyone needed to adopt a principled approach.

However Rajoelina’s reaction differs. He told the local press, “So far, I am not satisfied with the meeting I had with Marc Ravalomanana on Monday. The fundamental issues surrounding the crisis were not raised because he has prioritised his interests, being the African Union summit and the Madagascar Action Plan (MAP).” Rajoelina said that demonstrations would resume if no solution was found.

In reality, few people expected a meeting between the two main protagonists could take place after 34 days of political crisis, marked by demonstrations which saw several dozen people killed.

The dialogue between President Ravalomanana and deposed mayor Rajoelina was organised by the FFKM; the first meeting was held behind closed doors in the Episcopal centre of Antanimena in Antananarivo, a neutral ground for both parties, while the second took place at Hintsy Ambohimanambola on the outskirts of the capital. Four members of FFKM were present, acting as mediators.

Yet some observers believe that failure is not an option. U.S. Ambassador to Madagascar, Niels Macquardt, says that Madagascar is already in a critical situation. “This dialogue must lead to success. Both parties must work as a team if necessary,” he says.

Members of the National Electoral Committee (KMF/CNOE) are calling for a power-sharing agreement and believe it to be the only real answer to Madagascar’s crisis. “At worst, we must have recourse to an early election to best address the issues at hand,” says Bruno Rakotoarisoa, president of the country’s official election institution.

The opposition is however already preparing for a possible failure of the dialogue. “We are ready to go all the way. Even to move towards a transitional government if necessary,” says Bruno Betiana, an active member of the opposition.

Marie Zénaïde Ramampy, parliamentarian and Honorary Chair of the Movement for the Promotion of Gender and Development Policy (VMLF), believes that the crisis must be resolved through a totally neutral and independent authority, one which would work urgently to establish a transitional institution. She tells IPS, “We must learn from sound and practical policy, we must change direction and move towards a more modern, more tolerant, more balanced society.”

Supporters of President Ravalomanana are prepared to recognise only the present power structure until the next election in 2011. “Only the president elected by the people can be recognised as such,” says Yvan Randriasandratriniony, national head of the Tiako i Madagasikara presidential party (TIM).

But talks finally got underway as Rajoelina promised his supporters he would organise a major protest march. However nothing has been done, given he announced a halting of demonstrations in the capital. “We must comply with certain prerequisites in order to attain success,” said the deposed mayor, explaining that the truce did not signify an end to sit-in protests.

The prerequisites include the suspension of meetings, an end to political arrests, looting or provocation of any kind and the dissemination of false news on radio.

Despite the talks taking off, opposition members continue to mobilise in the provinces to continue the fight for democracy.

Rajoelina has meanwhile intensified his protest action by forming a parallel government made up of 12 ministers. Four of them were able to enter into their respective ministries on the afternoon of Feb. 20 but the posts were immediately taken over by Ravalomanana’s government the next day.

However, several women’s associations in Madagascar believe that the core of the problem still lies in the fact that power is in the hands of a minority in Madagascar. A minority made up not only of men but also of groups of people who have appropriated certain mechanisms which allow access to power and the upkeep of power.

The associations argue that the situation persists because of political and socio-cultural conformism as well as inequalities in access to resources. They say this compromises the living conditions of women and makes their everyday existence painful. The result is the increasing impoverishment of women, their unjust exclusion from decision-making processes and the lack of an applied democratic culture, both in the family and communal structures.

However the attitude of the women themselves to the political process is also a major obstacle to their participation. They do not have self-confidence and boldness in public affairs and lack the organisational capability and solidarity needed to support and/or defend their common cause.

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