On 7 November, Malagasy political protagonists reached an agreement on some of the remaining contentious issues in the country's political crisis. It took them one week of intense negotiations to reach the deal. Among other things, they have opted for a collegial solution to appoint the head (s) of the transition government. President Andry Rajoelina will have to share his executive powers with two co-presidents (one from the camp of former President Marc Ravalomanana, the other from former President Albert Zafy's camp). There is no clear division of authority among the three presidents. But it was agreed that all major decisions would require the approval and the signing of all three, which gives, at least in theory, a sense of equal authority among them.
The experience of "Three-Presidents-in-One" or a triumvirate is not new. And so are the difficulties inherent in such an approach to political stalemate. In May 1970, Benin put in place a similar structure that consisted of a "presidential triumvirate" with the executive position rotating every two years between the three members of the Committee. Evidently, the formula failed five months into the presidency of the second leader. Lt Colonel Mathieu Kerekou had exploited disagreements within the committee to stage his 26 October 1972 coup and established a Marxist-Leninist regime in the country.
With a deep-seated antagonism among the four camps that met in Addis last week and agreed on this formula, one wonders if the solution itself is not going be a problem in the end.
The current political crisis in Madagascar began at the beginning of the year and there are no clear signs of its end. Even though the leadership issue might be overcome, other positions within the government are likely to revive tensions, particularly those considered to be of strategic importance such as Defense, Finance, and Foreign Affairs portfolios.
Following the signing of Maputo Agreement on 8 August, it was expected that the second phase of the process, the setting up of the transitional institutions, would not be easy. It is not that Maputo arrangements have not provided direction as how to proceed. The Maputo Charter was quite clear on this aspect, as it left the appointment to these positions to the discretion of political actors. But the problem lies in political resistance from all sides. This is what led to the unilateral decision by Andry Rajoelina to disregard the Maputo consensus and keep his Prime-Minister Mondja Roindefo. This was understandable given that Roindefo is a key political and military ally of Rajoelina and getting rid of him was likely to raise tensions within Rajeolina's camp.
It could be argued that SADC's success in denying Rajoelina the platform of the UN General Assembly in September reminded Rajoelina that the regional grouping was a force to reckon with. And because SADC insisted on a consensual resolution of the crisis, Rajoelina had no choice but to make concessions to that end. Otherwise, opposition forces would have had little leverage in the new talks that took place in Addis Ababa.
As the leader of the transition headed to Addis Ababa for the new round of talks, Rajoelina appeared weakened by the concessions he had made throughout. His decision to keep the Maputo deal by sacking his current Prime Minister was resisted within his camp while Mondja Roindefo openly opposed it. Albert Zafy, Didier Ratsiraka and Marc Ravolomanana seemed to have had an upper hand in the process. Ravolomana continued to impose conditions that were difficult to meet, including the appointment of a "neutral leader" for the transition government. He vowed not to legitimise Andry Rajoelina's appointment.
It needs to be recalled that the power-sharing deal is a transitional arrangement and should not in any way be seen as a legitimization of coup makers. In that sense, the most important issue is how to plan and hold credible elections by the end of 2010. It is where the opposition including Ravolomanana should put their popularity to test. While it is essential that ministerial positions be distributed through consensus, contention around the remaining positions can only delay the resolution of the crisis while prolonging the suffering of the citizens.
The Addis meeting was critical for all the Malagasy protagonists. As indicated by AU Commission chair Jean Ping at the opening of the talks, each one of the leaders has his responsibility fully engaged in the resolution or otherwise of the crisis.
Looking at the political landscape, it is clear that Rajeolina and Ravolomanana are the most influential political actors and political stability in Madagascar largely depends on their attitude throughout the transition. But politically, the balance of power could be constantly shifting making the process long and complex. Some believe that if an alliance between Rajoelina and the former President Didier Ratsiraka (who could have commendable support from the east coast and the city of Toamasina) is confirmed, this could be a powerful political force, representing a wide range of geographical, political and ethnic interests behind Rajeolina in 2010 elections.
Ravalomanana for his part has consolidated his original power base amongst the urban middle class and the business community with some support for rural community leaders in various regions. He might see this as the basis for a comeback, if he can overcome the current urban popular resentment about his business interests and previous leadership as president. But in the present mood, with the economy depressed, as it has been demonstrated during the riots leading up to his destitution, there could be a popular welcome for fresh faces, who are seen as largely untainted by the rivalries of the past decades. Only free, fair and credible elections could provide a definite answer to this equation. The problem is that nobody knows if these elections will be held - and whether the unholy trinity will survive.
Written by: David Zounmenou, Senior Researcher, African Security Analysis Programme, Pretoria Office