Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Madagascar: From Crisis to Transition

Source: International Crisis Group

Charlotte Larbuisson, On the African Peacebuilding Agenda

During the last few months, new options for resolving the Madagascar crisis have emerged in the form of the most recent roadmap proposed by the mediation team of the Southern African Development Community (SADC). Accepted by the authorities and rejected by elements of the opposition, the roadmap remains the subject of debate and there is still no agreement on how to achieve a peaceful transition. In a few weeks from now, the SADC is due to make a statement on the document and accept, reject or amend it. There are other options for changing the course of events without changing the roadmap and these should be explored as quickly as possible.

A controversial roadmap

For more than six months, the de facto authorities have been going about the business of implementing their plans for a transition.[i] On 17 November 2010, they organised a constitutional referendum that led to the adoption of a new fundamental law and the establishment of the Fourth Republic. The referendum was boycotted by the opposition and generally ignored by the international community. There did not seem to be any further scope for civil society attempts at mediation between the authorities and the opposition as discussions came to a standstill and the High Authority of the Transition (HAT) announced it was no longer willing to compromise. However, the HAT finally returned to the negotiating table at the end of the year[ii] and SADC took centre stage again.[iii]

On 31 January, after consulting all local actors, the SADC’s facilitator, former Mozambican president, Joaquin Chissano proposed a plan to end the crisis.[iv] This provided for a consensual transition leading to elections, inclusion of the opposition in the country's institutions and the appointment of a consensual prime minister responsible for forming a government of national unity with balanced representation of the political tendencies. The plan made the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) responsible for the entire electoral process. The document provided for peacemaking measures and a broad amnesty. The second part of the agreement covered the international community's involvement in supporting the electoral process.

The opposition rejected the proposal, which it judged to be too favourable to the authorities.[v] The proposal granted many prerogatives to the de facto president Andry Rajoelina, notably by authorising him to appoint members of political institutions (from a list of names put forward by the signatories to the roadmap) without imposing any representation quotas. It also authorised Rajoelina to stand for election.[vi] The proposed roadmap was revised twice and the latest version was initialled at the beginning of March by the parties close to power as well as part of the opposition that are labelled as "dissidents". Most of the amendments requested by the mainstream opposition groups were not included in the last version of the roadmap, which the leaders of the three movements still think is unbalanced. They therefore refused to sign up to the process.[vii]

Shortly after, the government was dissolved and Rajoelina reappointed Camille Vital as a consensual prime minister. This appointment respected the letter of the roadmap, because Vital is not a member of the platform of parties that supports Rajoelina but it ignores the spirit of the roadmap because Vital has always been a faithful supporter of the president, since his appointment in December 2009.[viii] A new government of "national unity" was formed shortly after. Although several important members of the opposition (Pierrot Rajaonarivelo and Yves Aimé Rakotoarison) joined the government, Rajoelina retained control of most of the key ministries, appointing faithful allies to the ministries of Justice, Finance, Decentralisation and Mines for example. With Vital's appointment and the formation of the government, he therefore missed opportunities to display any willingness to compromise.

During this time, the opposition tried to organise itself but was a little divided on what strategy to adopt. Some put forward the idea of creating parallel institutions,[ix] while others preferred to seek dialogue and clearly indicated this by attending the roadmap initialling ceremony. Some even agreed to initial the document and joined the government. The opposition also wanted to show its capacity to mobilise support and, on 19 February, former president Ravalomanana announced his return to the country. However, he was eventually refused authorisation to board the plane in Johannesburg for Madagascar. Several thousand supporters were waiting for him at the airport. Meanwhile, the three movements sent representatives to the countries of the region to defend their cause as the date approached for the meeting of SADC’s peace and security organ, the Troika, that was due to make a decision on the roadmap.[x]

Endorsement of the document by the regional organ would be the first step to international recognition of this plan for ending the crisis and therefore towards finding support for the electoral process necessary for credible elections. Although many observers felt SADC's support for the roadmap would be forthcoming, it did not take a clear final decision when it met on 31 March. Although it indicated its support for the mediators' effort, it only "noted" the recent proposal of a roadmap and requested an extraordinary summit of heads of state to discuss it.[xi]

By not taking a clear position, SADC opened the door to all manner of interpretations and both the opposition and the authorities tried to present the situation to their own advantage. The three opposition movements took this decision to mean that the roadmap could not be accepted in its present form. Meanwhile, the authorities claimed they had been given a green light for implementing the provisions of the document. However, some of their representatives also said they felt they had been "tricked": after including opposition members in their ranks, they felt the roadmap would surely be approved. They interpreted the delay as a lack of recognition for their efforts and felt they had been "lumbered" with ministers who were not completely on their side, without being compensated by international recognition. Moreover, some of the president's close colleagues who had been sidelined in the process were not happy about it and criticised him for making concessions. The lack of international recognition could therefore result in the authorities, anxious to avoid the possibility of a coup, hardening their position under pressure from some of their (former) members.[xii]

Once again, the rest of the international community reacted in a dispersed way. While some of them took a prudent attitude and waited in silence for the next SADC summit meeting before deciding what to do next, others became more involved. The Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie (OIF) got to work on preparing the elections.[xiii] The Indian Ocean Commission (COI) felt that the roadmap could not be ignored in the quest to end the crisis and asked the rest of the international community to get involved in supporting the electoral process.[xiv] The ambassadors of India, France and Turkey all visited the authorities shortly after they took office.

Need for a balanced solution

The SADC now faces a difficult choice. Its mediation team has formulated an agreement that is perceived to be unequal but which the authorities do not want to amend now that they have accepted it. The mediation team believes it achieved the best compromise possible at the time. Although the opposition cannot benefit from an interminable right of veto or refuse any compromise, there is still a need to make it worthwhile for it to sign an agreement. It seems problematic to revise the entire roadmap, but some measures could be taken to encourage the opposition to join the transition process or at least to form an official opposition, without necessarily amending the proposal.

The main thing now is to reach a balanced solution that gives all actors a reason to join the process. This requires equal treatment for all. If this could be guaranteed, it would then be up to the opposition to choose whether to take part in the revised institutions. Its decision would not then be taken by default, as is currently the case, and it could no longer argue on the basis of an alleged lack of balance in the proposed agreement. Refusal of the authorities to guarantee such equitable treatment would be an indication of a lack of good faith in the search for a balanced solution. Before endorsing the roadmap, SADC must therefore insist that the authorities provide equitable treatment. A number of international partners feel the same way. Although they would be prepared to follow SADC's lead, they would be more inclined to get involved again if they felt all the parties had been treated fairly.[xv]

The first component of such equitable treatment concerns the credibility of the electoral process. Although the roadmap contains important provisions on this subject, it could nevertheless be strengthened if the authorities were prepared to make indications of goodwill, particularly with regard to the electoral calendar. The roadmap stipulates that the date of the elections will be chosen jointly by the CENI and the United Nations. Although the CENI has publicly stated it will be able to organise the elections without international financial support in only a few months in order to meet the political demands of the day, some members have however indicated that it will not be straightforward to organise the elections this year even with international financial support.[xvi]

According to the report by United Nations experts,[xvii] eleven months will be needed to organise a credible ballot.[xviii] If the authorities were to publicly declare that they accept the need for such a period and agree to abandon any attempt to hold elections this September, this could constitute a first sign of good faith. Rajoelina's recent statement that the date of the elections will be decided by the political parties[xix] is not only contrary to the roadmap but also represents the politicisation of an event that needs to be organised in as neutral a way as possible.

The second component of equal treatment regards the candidacy of Andry Rajoelina in the elections. The authorities find it impossible to consider the return of Marc Ravalomanana before the elections. But as he is the main opponent of the current regime, to prevent him standing against Rajoelina would be contrary to the idea of holding free and fair elections. To compensate for this lack of balance, it would seem appropriate for Rajoelina to also withdraw his candidacy. Moreover, even though the roadmap authorises him to stand, any campaign involving the HAT president would be unlikely to be a peaceful one. Moreover, the possibility that the perpetrator of an unconstitutional change in government might stand for election will send a potentially dangerous signal to both domestic and international audiences and will contravene African Union standards.

Rajoelina's indication that he will stand for president if he is sure of being elected[xx] raises many questions regarding his willingness to see the process unfold freely. He no longer believes himself bound by his statement of May 2010 about not standing for election because, he says, the international community has not "kept its promises". This implies that his announcement had only been meant for Madagascar's international partners and not its citizens, which are however the ones who are really in need of a peaceful climate in which to elect their representatives.

Threats and opportunities

Strengthening the neutrality of the transition and the credibility of the electoral process is all the more crucial given that this period presents many threats, whether the process is supported by the international community or not. Continuing without international support can only lead to the isolation of Madagascar on the international scene and will keep the country in the precarious financial situation it has experienced for the last two years.[xxi] It will also mean that the legitimacy of the government formed following the election will continue to be disputed and it will therefore be difficult for it to implement the important reforms that the country needs.[xxii] Neither can the threat of the government being overthrown in a few years be discounted if the elections are flawed. In a context in which the armed forces have twice expressed their dissatisfaction during the last year, any courses of action considered to be unilateral could once again create the conditions for a more or less violent response.[xxiii]

If the international community endorses the roadmap and supports the electoral process, it is important to encourage the opposition to participate in the elections and avoid retreating into the logic of systematic boycott, which would only isolate it further and diminish the democratic nature of the process. It is crucial that the next government is the result of elections contested by a broad range of candidates in order to strengthen its representative nature and legitimacy and provide a solid base for a programme of reforms.

Moreover, even if financial aid resumes, the process will inevitably be very gradual and the economic situation will therefore remain fragile. Instead of seeking unofficial financial assistance, the regime would do better to maintain its policy of budgetary austerity and to cooperate with international financial institutions.

Although the transition period faces threats, it also presents opportunities that all actors should seize. If SADC decides to endorse the roadmap, perhaps with some amendments or commitments from the authorities in place, the international community should not adopt an over-cautious approach, or the process would run the risk of failure. It is nevertheless clear that it must be particularly attentive to events and may adjust its support if it observes abuses.

This period is a real opportunity to begin to develop the country's electoral system and donors should be willing to contribute all their support at the different stages of the process. In particular, the CENI should benefit from this assistance, so that it is able to definitively become financially independent of the authorities and carry out its duties in complete independence.[xxiv] The opposition should occupy the seats it was allocated in order to exercise some control over the process and have the opportunity to comment if they see any deviations from the required standards.

The transition should also allow the adoption of laws that have been in debate for years, for example on political parties, communication and the status of the opposition. These issues should not however be dealt with precipitately and could benefit from expert advice.

Finally, international support should also focus on the development of civil society, in order to help it play its role in the future. This is of course very long-term work but it should be resumed as quickly as possible. As the roadmap indicates, it should play the role of guardian of the proper functioning of the process and it should receive technical and financial support in this task. Its role and its mode of operation in this task would gain however if it were better defined in the final version of the agreement.

From crisis to transition

As decision-time approaches for SADC, it is important for it to focus all its attention on measures that will ensure equitable treatment of the protagonists. Without amending the roadmap, the authorities have the opportunity to prove their willingness to guarantee the neutrality of the process, so that the opposition is free to make a choice about whether it wants to join this transition on a balanced basis. If the authorities reject these measures, it will expose their unwillingness to promote a credible transition and elections. It would also show that they have chosen to plunge the country into instability rather than accept measures that would strengthen the transition. Meanwhile, the opposition's refusal to join the process could no longer be justified by reference to an imbalance of the proposed solution.

Even if these measures are agreed and the process is recognised by the international community, it is clear that the transition and elections will not solve all Madagascar's problems. However, they will at least allow the country to set in motion the necessary reforms and re-establish the constitutional order that is indispensable for fundamental change. However imperfect it is, the transition must represent the first stage of a process that will last for years. There is no easy and quick solution to this crisis but it is clear that the next few months must be put to good use in order to avoid compounding the existing problems and challenges.