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Madagascar Opposition Rejects President’s Referendum Calls, Demands His Immediate Resignation

Partisans of Madagascar's opposition are expected to besiege the presidential palace today (Monday) to force President Marc Ravalomanana to step down. This follows claims by the opposition leader that he has the backing of the national army after some officers refused to take orders from Ravalomanana's government. Opposition leader Andry Rajoelina reiterated his call for the president's resignation in a political stalemate that is threatening to destabilize the country. President Ravalomanana however called for a referendum Sunday, saying calls for his resignation are illegal and an affront to democracy. Patricia Rajeriarison is a resident of the Malagasy capital, Antananarivo. She tells reporter Peter Clottey that Malagasies are confused about who is really in charge of the country.

"We will see because now it is a question of recognition. So, even if Andry Rajoelina says that he is now ruling the country, the question for him is will he now get recognized inside the country and also by our international partners? So he will have to convince the whole country that he can rule effectively," Rajeriarison pointed out.

She said the embattled president, even though he is under enormous opposition pressure is constitutionally mandated to rule the country until his term expires in 2011.

"Ravalomanana is the legally elected president so he still has some legitimacy. But at the same time he has proposed a referendum under opposition pressure and he would like to prove that the Malagasy people still want him as the president. The question is who will conduct the referendum? It is a question of trust now so can he (president) restore the confidence that he lost in the people? That is also the question he needs to answer," she said.

Rajeriarison said the president has so far refused to buckle under despite the opposition's demand for his resignation.

"He (Ravalomanana) said he will never resign and that is what he said Sunday in a radio address. He said he will never resign unless the Malagasy people ask him to. So the only solution is to know if the Malagasy people want him to go for a referendum and I think that is the logic. But the thing is about 80 percent of the people live in the rural areas so you cannot know what they think," Rajeriarison noted.

She said there is need for the whole country to decide who wields the most power in the ongoing political stalemate between the embattled President Ravalomana and the deposed Antananarivo mayor Andry Rajoelina.

"If they agree to what is happening now, I guess a national consensus is not a bad idea because for the time being all the protests have happened in the capital, Antananarivo and maybe in the other provinces and other areas, but they are limited in time and place," she said.

Rajeriarison said although the opposition leader claims he is enjoying support from the military it is unclear if the military will dabble in the ongoing political struggle.

"Apparently the army wants to stay neutral, but there seems to be confusion since the information coming from both sides seems to be contradictory. So, I guess if you really control the army then you have to prove it today (Monday)," Rajeriarison pointed out.

She said the ordinary Malagasy is confused about the ongoing political struggle between the embattled president and the opposition leader.

"They are all very confused especially here in the capital, Antananarivo they are sharply divided. So, you really don't know what the people outside the capital are thinking. But if you want to know you have to go there to find out and you know it is very difficult to get any communication even from the radio stations because some of the radio stations cannot broadcast nationwide. It is very hard and you know this is a really big country and the level of infrastructural development is very low so it is very difficult to know what the people in the rural areas are thinking," she said.

The opposition leader emerged from two weeks in hiding to declare himself president of the country, claiming he has the backing of the military in an ongoing political struggle with embattled President Ravalomanana. The opposition has also moved without resistance into the empty offices of the less powerful prime minister and named Monja Roindefo as his successor.

But Ravalomanana seems to be unfazed by the activities of the opposition which he described as illegal and has rejected the demands for his resignation. Monja Roindefo occupied the official prime minister's office yesterday after the opposition took control of the building, accompanied by around 30 soldiers.

So far, the army has said it would not intervene in the dispute, though chief of staff Colonel Andre Andriarijaona said his forces could end up supporting the opposition if it would restore calm.

Some Malagasy political analysts say although the Ravalomanana's concession marked a first major shift in his position, he gave no details as to what type of poll he could agree to stage. Talks between the two sides came to a standstill weeks ago.

Meanwhile, officials of the African Union will be holding an emergency meeting today (Monday) about the ongoing political crisis in Madagascar.