News24

Madagascar armed forces step back

2010-05-08 10:30

Antananarivo - Madagascar's armed forces have rowed back on an ultimatum given last month to the Indian Ocean island's leader Andry Rajoelina and said they have no place to influence the make up of a new government.

The army's chief, General Andre Ndriarijoana, who backed Rajoelina's power grab last year, had given Africa's youngest leader until the end of April to produce an acceptable road map to end a crisis that has hurt foreign investment.

"It is not our job to define whether this road map is clear ... and if it will allow the country to exit the crisis. We are only observers," Ndriarijoana told reporters late on Thursday.

Analysts say that while some military commanders are frustrated at Rajoelina's failure to end the crisis and restore constitutional order, a military takeover risked deepening divisions within the armed forces and triggering infighting.

Earlier this week, Rajoelina said he could form a politically "neutral" government after last-ditch power-sharing talks with ousted leader Marc Ravalomanana and former Presidents Didier Ratsiraka and Albert Zafy failed.

He did not elaborate on what he meant by neutral but there had been speculation Rajoelina could include technocrats and military officials or simply members of rival political parties prepared to work with him.

The army refused to comment on whether its reversal was an endorsement of Rajoelina's proposal but it appeared to rule out the threat of a military takeover.

Some opposition leaders dismissed Rajoelina's talk of neutrality and said it would be impossible to organise elections before installing a legitimate, consensus government.

"For us, once again, this is another unilateral initiative which has no legitimate basis," Emmanuel Rakotovahiny told Reuters.

Former disc-jockey Rajoelina has said elections should be held by the end of the year but the constitution must be amended first if he is to run for president. Under the old charter, the 35-year-old is five years too young to be head of state.

"We think it would be best to organise a constitutional referendum on August 12, 2010," Hery Rakatomanana, president of the National Independent Electoral Commission (CENI), told reporters on Thursday.

International mediators last year brokered a string of power-sharing deals, but the bitter political rivals could not agree how to divide up the main posts and each accord collapsed.