New Madagascar govt fails to end political strife


After weeks of crisis and intervention by the country's top court, Madagascar now has a unity government supposed to bring rivals together and steer the island nation to elections.

But, among the opposition, the mood is sour and resentment still simmers.

The government was unveiled on Monday by President Hery Rajaonarimampianina and his prime minister, Christian Ntsay, the technocrat he appointed at the behest of the Constitutional Court.

But many opposition supporters have reacted with disdain, dismissing the new cabinet as stuffed with old faces tainted by corruption.

"No recycling of ministers", screamed a large poster held by opposition protesters, who have been staging a daily vigil at the May 13 square in front of city hall.

The opposition secured a dozen ministerial posts out of 30 - but for their supporters, that is not enough.

"I'm very upset that we still have HVM," said Hanta Razanadranaivo, 60, referring to Rajaonarimampianina's party. "We demanded change, and we get a recycling of former ministers".

"This new government does not solve anything. It does not respect the decision of the Constitutional Court," grumbled Julien Naina, a supporter of ex-president Marc Ravalomanana.

"We must continue the demonstrations until Hery Rajaonarimampianina is overthrown."

The protest movement, begun on April 21, initially sought to thwart proposed electoral reforms - a package that critics said was crafted to ensure the president would cruise to victory in elections due later this year.

The reforms were overturned by the courts, but the protests continued, becoming a full-blown movement to oust Rajaonarimampianina. Violence has claimed two lives and left more than a dozen injured.

Defence Minister Beni Xavier Rasolofonirina last month threatened to deploy security forces if political efforts to resolve the crisis failed.

The Constitutional Court then stepped in, ordering Rajaonarimampianina to form a government of national unity with a "consensus" prime minister.

On June 4 he appointed the non-partisan Ntsay, whose government was announced on Monday.

 'Seven-headed monster' 

Its main goal will be to lead the country smoothly until the general election, the date of which is yet to be fixed, but will likely be at the end of September.

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"The government is in place. Some people won't be happy - but that's normal because you can't please all the people all the time," Ntsay said on Tuesday during a visit to the north of the island.

But some question whether this very diverse team can carry out its mission in a country with a long reputation for instability since it gained independence from France in 1960.

"The government has given birth to a seven-headed monster and must be buried unconditionally," Honore Tsabotokay, an independent MP, told opposition supporters on Tuesday.

"What we are seeing in the current context is evidence of just how superficial the agreements were that were cobbled together," said Piers Pigou of the International Crisis Group (ICG) think-tank.

Madagascar's crisis has triggered international concern, with the African Union (AU), the UN and regional Southern African Development Community (SADC) bloc all sending teams to help resolve crisis.

"For Madagascar's regional neighbours in SADC, and for the wider international community, the key concern is to see the island safely prepare and conduct credible and fair elections," said Paul Melly of the London-based Chatham House think-tank.

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