International Papers

Madagascar Has Two Presidents

Since last Friday, Madagascar has had two presidents. The official results of the Dec. 16, 2001, presidential elections showed Marc Ravalomanana, the mayor of the African island nation’s capital, leading the race but without a sufficient margin for outright victory. A second round of voting is scheduled for March 24, but Ravalomanana refuses to take part in a runoff, claiming he is the victim of government fraud. After weeks of huge protest rallies and a four-week general strike that has paralyzed the capital’s economy, he declared himself president last Friday. Hours after the swearing-in, incumbent President Didier Ratsiraka, who has ruled Madagascar for most of the last 20 years, declared a state of emergency and fled to one of his strongholds east of the capital. The dispute turned violent Wednesday when one man was killed and at least 24 people were wounded after pro-government forces staged a rally. As a columnist for Malaysia’s New Straits Times observed, “Tensions are running high in Madagascar, cruelly twisting the tongues of foreign broadcast journalists.”

The majority of Madagascar’s newspapers refer to Ravalomanana as “president,” although France, the most recent colonial power, and the Organization of African Unity characterized his actions as an attempted coup d’etat. The Midi Madagasikara condemned the international community’s double standard in dismissing Ravalomanana for “unconstitutionally” declaring himself president while staying silent about the incumbent leader’s declaration of a state of emergency, which “eminent lawyers consider unconstitutional.” The Madagascar Tribunesaid Ravalomanana may have gone too far, but Ratsiraka’s “obstinacy” left him with no other option. The Tribune fretted that the nation was heading back to military rule. (A prophetic concern; on Thursday, Adm. Ratsiraka, who ruled for 17 years as a military strongman, declared martial law.)

Although Ravalomanana, a self-made millionaire who made his fortune from yogurt, enjoys huge popularity in Antananarivo, the capital, it’s unclear how much support he has outside the city limits. President Ratsiraka has cut off the capital’s supply lines. According to France’s Le Monde, as early as last week gas stations were running out of juice. As payback, no fruits or vegetables have moved from Antananarivo to Ratsiraka’s stronghold. An editorial in Wednesday’s Madagascar Tribune headlined “Enough already” said it was time to bring the inter-regional anarchy to an end, because “it’s the little people who suffer first.” L’Express de Madagascar, which supports Ravalomanana, worried that Ratsiraka’s next step will be “imposing an independent government in each province or instigating an ethnic war.” (Excerpt courtesy of BBC Monitoring.)