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Malagasies Look to Crisis Summit to Chart New Direction for the Country

A two-day national conference is expected to alert Malagasies later today when elections for a new president will take place. The meeting is aimed at finding a solution to the island-nation's deep political crisis. The transitional government under military-endorsed, self-declared President Andry Rajoelina organized the summit that included participation by all political groups in the country except for former President Marc Ravalomanana's party. Rajoelina vowed to put together a new constitutional order in which all citizens have equal opportunities and access to elected office. But supporters of the former president dismissed the move as illegal and an affront to democracy. Malagasy journalist Mialy Randriamampianina tells reporter Peter Clottey that the political crisis summit has gained traction among ordinary Malagasies.

"Most people think it is a really great conference since it is the first time in Malagasy history that we have all of the political parties in Madagascar except Marc Ravalomanana's party. We also have the participation of the civil society, former politicians, lawyers and even members of the international community were represented during this conference. This is really something new in Malagasy's history," Randriamampianina noted.

She said partisans of the former ruling party refused to be part of the ongoing summit, claiming it was illegal and biased.

"The aim of this conference is to ensure there is a common solution to resolving the political crisis in Madagascar. But Marc Ravalomanana's party refused to participate in the conference. According to them, the conference is not objective because it is Andry Rajoelina and Monja Roindefo's government which is organizing the conference. And for sure they (opposition) are going to try and organize their own, adding that only Andry Rajoelina and Monja Roindefo will benefit from the conference, and so that is why they have decided to organize their own conference which begins today (Friday)," she said.

Randriamampianina said it is unclear who would be part of the conference being organized today by supporters of the former president.

"We still don't know who would be part of this conference. But one can say that the aim of those two conferences is the same, which is to find a lasting solution to the ongoing political crisis in this country," Randriamampianina pointed out.

She said Friday's conference of Ravalomanana supporters is not gaining enough credibility among ordinary Malagasies.

"The Marc Ravalomanana conference is not all that popular and the people are not worried about it. People are really impressed about the conference organized by Andry Rajoelina, and it is just amazing to see all those people talking together even when those political parties do not share the same ideology. So for the first time, everybody is in the conference together, and we are seeing some form of unity and the need to find solutions to the political crisis," she said.

Randriamampianina said there are high expectations about the final decision of the Rajoelina conference, which ends Friday.

"Most of the Malagasy people are waiting for something good to come out of this conference organized by the transitional government led by Andry Rajoelina. The expectations are that they would come up with a solution to the political crisis and we are also waiting for the changes in the Malagasy constitution. And we are also waiting for the date of the presidential election, and we are hopeful that we will have the information today," Randriamampianina pointed out.

The former opposition leader, who was sworn in as president March 21, told the meeting on Thursday that he was confident that participants would be in line with the ambitions of the Madagascan transitional government.

But Ravalomanana supporters described the meeting as a sham, saying their party would not attend the conference unless it was organized by the United Nations.

In contrast, President Rajoelina called the summit a significant milestone in the political history of Madagascar, noting that participants had achieved democratization and profound change and had transformed political power in the country.

Summit participants are expected to make suggestions on the date of a next national conference, the duration of a transitional period, and the days on which to prepare new constitutional and legislative texts. The participants will also determine a date for a national referendum on a new constitution.

Former president Ravalomanana has been quiet after he was forced to resign due to almost daily opposition protests. He recently told a press conference that he would establish an autonomous province, rather than endorsing a so-called Rajoelina transitional government. Ravalomanana claims the only reason he agreed to relinquish power was because he was staring down the barrel of a gun. He made the revelation at a closed door meeting with leaders of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) at an extraordinary summit that ended earlier this week.