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Rival Presidents Strike Peace Deal in Senegal

Ofeibea Quist-Arcton
Dakar, Senegal
18 April 2002

The two rival presidents of Madagascar have signed a landmark power-sharing peace deal, late Thursday morning, in Senegal.

The agreement, signed after more than 24 hours of feverish but determined African mediation, envisages a government of national reconciliation in Madagascar during a six-month democratic transition. The incumbent Didier Ratsiraka remains president during that period, with his challenger, Marc Ravalomanana, as his deputy.

If neither man wins outright a recount of the disputed December presidential election vote, then after six months, a referendum will be held to select either Ratsiraka or Ravalomanana as the new leader of Madagascar.

The two men have been locked in top-level talks, since Tuesday night in a bid to end the bitter power struggle and political impasse and stop the upsurge in violence and killings in their island nation.

The talks were brokered by Senegalese president, Abdoulaye Wade, under the auspices of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU).

Other key mediators in the talks were the OAU secretary-general, Amara Essy, and Ibrahima Fall, the special representative in West Africa of UN secretary-general, Kofi Annan. The full text of the deal signed by the rival Malagasy presidents was read to the press by Amara Essy.

The deal is a stunning diplomatic coup for the Senegalese leader, who stepped in, after mediation efforts by the OAU had twice ended in failure. Wade invited the two Malagasy protagonists to talk peace in Dakar, where he said they would be on 'neutral ground’ and more 'at ease’.

Ravalomanana was 'sworn in' as president by a sympathetic Supreme Court judge in late February, after he rejected the official results of the December parliamentary poll, in which he ran against Ratsiraka, the sitting president of Madagascar.

After Ravalomanana’s 'inauguration’ on 22 February, Madagascar found itself with two rival presidents, two governments, two capitals, growing unrest and a divided military, whose forces nonetheless initially remained neutral.

Ravalomanana said his actions were justified because the Ratsiraka government and the Ratsiraka-dominated High Constitutional Court (HCC) had effectively rigged the vote. He argued that he had secured enough votes to win the election outright; but the HCC ruled that his share of the vote was less than 50% and there would have to be a second round.

Significantly, the Madagascar Supreme Court annulled the official election result on Wednesday and ordered the authorities to review the process and organise a vote recount.

The Dakar agreement states that, "in the event that neither candidate obtains the necessary majority to be elected from the first round of voting, a popular referendum to choose between the two candidates will be organised," within six months.

The deal stipulates that in case neither Ratsiraka nor Ravalomanana be declared the outright election winner after the vote recount, any fresh ballot must be organised jointly by the OAU, the UN and the European Union.

On the formation of a transitional national reconciliation government, the text of the accord states that the following principles should apply:

* The Prime Minister will be appointed, by common accord, by Didier Ratsiraka and Marc Ravalomanana.

* Of the 5 ‘sovereign’ ministers, Marc Ravalomanana will appoint two, the Interior and Finance portfolios.

* All the other members of the government will be appointed, by agreement, half of them by Mr Ratsiraka, the other half by Mr Ravalomanana.

Another important feature of the accord is that the two parties must, "once the results are announced, create a transitional national council, assigned the task of supervising the proper running of the transition."

The accord stipulates that Ravalomanana should head this council, effectively making him the second most important personality, after President Ratsiraka, in the state hierarchy of Madagascar. The official text said Ravalomanana "is designated as the president of this institution [National Transitional Council], with the ranking protocol of number two in the state (after Ratsiraka)."

Madagascar’s existing national electoral commission is to be replaced by an independent electoral commission, responsible for preparing and organising the "popular consultation" or referendum.

The agreement prevails on the signatories, from 18 April, to "respect the freedom of movement of goods and persons, to ensure the immediate end to all threats and violence against people or goods, the blowing up of bridges, as well as the dismantling of all roadblocks and barriers throughout the country."

Once the OAU secretary-general had finished reading the full text of the peace deal, Ratsiraka declared himself satisfied that personal interests and ambitions had been set aside in the higher national interest of Madagascar.

Ravalomanana, who said little during the one and a half days of peace talks in Senegal, told journalists that an 'honourable’ solution had been found to the conflict in Madagascar, that has claimed more than 35 lives in the past few weeks.

A clearly happy President Wade warned the two that they had an obligation to the people of their island to ensure lasting peace, adding that more violence was simply unacceptable.

A Senegalese presidential spokesman said Ratsiraka would leave Dakar Thursday and Ravalomanana on Friday.