ANTANANARIVO, (Reuters) – Madagascar’s military chiefs gave opposition leader Andry Rajoelina full powers yesterday to run the Indian Ocean island, ending a months-long power struggle that has killed 135 people.
Former President Marc Ravalomanana resigned on Tuesday and asked navy Admiral Hyppolite Ramaroson to form a military government, but the top brass refused to take power.
“We give full powers to Mr Andry Rajoelina to become president of the high transitional authority,” Ramaroson told reporters at a military camp in the capital Antananarivo.
Weeks of turmoil and street protests in Madagascar, the world’s fourth largest island, have crippled the $390 million-a-year tourism industry and worried foreign investors in the important mining and oil exploration sectors.
Some Western powers, including the European Union, had warned they would cut aid to anyone coming to power by force.
The charismatic Rajoelina, 34, had called the president a dictator running Madagascar like a private firm with no concern for the poor, tapping into widespread public discontent with high levels of poverty.
Ravalomanana’s supporters had said the opposition leader was a hothead bent on seizing power illegally.
Despite concerns from abroad that he should have gone to the ballot box, Rajoelina mustered sufficient domestic support to consolidate power on the huge, mineral-rich island off the coast of southeast Africa.
Analysts said that once the military, which has typically remained neutral in political disputes, sided with the opposition leader, Ravalomanana, a self-made dairy tycoon, had no option but to step down.
Some dissenting voices in the military had been quashed, diplomatic sources said.
“Now the country has to convince donors that it is going back to democracy — organising an election and putting in place a transition government,” said Lydie Boka of the France-based risk consultancy StrategieCo.
Rajoelina marched into the president’s city-centre offices as soon as he had stepped down. But Rajoelina is too young to be president, according to Madagascar’s constitution, which stipulates 40 as a minimum age.
Rajoelina, a former disc jockey and sacked mayor of Antananarivo, has been named president of a high transitional authority which has pledged to hold presidential, general and local elections within two years.
“We can say that we are free. There is a lot of work that awaits us. It is the path Madagascar must take,” he said.
Under Madagascar’s constitution, the head of the upper house of parliament should have assumed interim control after the departure of the president, and elections held within 60 days.
The African Union, which opposes any unlawful transfer of power on a continent only too familiar with bloody uprisings, had demanded Malagasy parties “comply scrupulously” with the constitution.
Philippe de Pontet, analyst at Eurasia Group, said the appointment of Rajoelina would spare Madagascar further violent unrest for now.
“While this is a major blow to the rule of law, and will certainly cause aid suspensions by donors at a time when the economy is already reeling, major mining and oil investors on the ground will likely ride out the crisis without losing their projects,” he said.
Mark Schroeder, Africa analyst at global intelligence firm Stratfor, said Rajoelina would likely consolidate his position.
“If the military is behind this opposition power-grab, nothing is going to reverse that. Condemnation from foreign diplomats is not going to reverse it,” he said. “Once the dust settles, the international community will go along with it.”