What Madagascar's failed coup attempt could mean for the fragile country
A coup attempt by rebel officers against a government that itself came to power by military force, leaves Malagasy citizens calling it an example of political theater and all eyes on a constitutional vote.
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From the outset, the coup attempt of Nov. 17 seemed to have more of a political than a military objective. Twenty rebels, led by a colonel and a general, made a declaration of their coup on election day to a limited number of journalists at their residential base near the airport at Antananarivo. They they took no further action, saying that they could take the country's main airport at any time. For the next three days, they effectively stayed home, receiving military colleagues doubling as unofficial negotiators with the government and TV cameras.Skip to next paragraph
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Outside the gates of the surrounded military base, very few crowds gathered. A meeting of disaffected mayors was broken up on Saturday, with the head of the mayors arrested. Even the brief citizen protest in favor of rebels, throwing stones into the road outside the base, and the subsequent firing of tear gas by military police seemed to be largely pro-forma. The entire coup claimed no casualties.
Latest coup 'cinema'
Apart from a few scuffles in the capital, most Malagasies viewed this coup as the latest bit of "cinema" directed by the squabbling elites.
Engineer Harisoa Razakananana would not reveal how she voted. She said, "Our problem is international recognition, but we Malagasies need to take the matter into our own hands and not allow the powers to manipulate us." She said the country had had enough of political infighting and said "not many people will go and vote. They have had enough."
He is abstaining "to not recognize the power in place, because it is a de facto power that is organizing these elections. I want to demonstrate my dislike because they will try and use this vote to manipulate the international community and public opinion. Yesterday the government said vote yes to get out of the crisis. It's a way of poisoning the people."
Disenfranchised by the political system, most people in the capital rate presidents by how much better or worse life has got for them, and when asked who they would like to lead the country, citizens seem to deem them all as corrupt as each other. The only consensus seems to be that this is the worst crisis the country has seen, and opinions at polling stations seemed divided and confused about whether or how their vote or abstention would improve things.
International community role
As the government banned broadcasts of the rebel's declaration on state radio and television, it is likely that most of the 20 million inhabitants of the world's fourth largest island were unaware that a coup attempt had taken place.
The same cannot be said for the international community. A long trail of similar coups over the past 40 years still makes foreign donor nations and neighbors jump.
France's foreign Minister Christine Lagarde was quick to condemn the rebels, but an EU statement from High Representative for Foreign Affairs Catherine Ashton pointed the finger at the lack of transparency and inclusivity in the government's decisions, especially the electoral calendar. Along with the US, France has urged parties to return to internationally mediated talks with the African Union and SADC.
Given current volatility, there is little doubt that this could have turned into a real coup, and the propensity for change by force is still strong as social, economic, and political tensions are reaching the breaking point. The Nov. 17 referendum, by chance, marked the end of 20 months of crisis for Madagascar.