President Marc Ravalomanana of Madagascar resigned Tuesday and handed control of the government to the military, which then passed the power to rule this poor island off Africa's southeast coast to his arch rival, Andry Rajoelina.
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — President Marc Ravalomanana of Madagascar resigned Tuesday and handed control of the government to the military, which then passed the power to rule this poor island off Africa’s southeast coast to his arch rival, Andry Rajoelina.
This odd turn of events comes after two months of political turmoil during which Rajoelina, the former mayor of the capital, Antananarivo, had repeatedly declared a parallel government with himself in charge, essentially announcing a coup in a democratic country.
Late in the evening it was unclear if all elements of the military were in agreement with the changeover, but it was certain that the embattled president had finally succumbed to irreversible momentum.
If these events hold, it will be an astonishing triumph for Rajoelina, a former disc jockey and entertainment impresario who at 34 is not even old enough, according to the constitution, to be Madagascar’s president. He takes the place of a man democratically elected in 2001 and re-elected in 2006.
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Rajoelina became the mayor of Antananarivo in December 2007, besting the candidate from the president’s party. Eventually, he projected himself as the people’s champion against Ravalomanana, 59, a self-made tycoon, calling him a dictator more interested in promoting his own business interests than elevating the masses out of poverty.
In late January, Rajoelina began a string of protests that sometimes led to lootings and confrontations with security forces.
More than 100 people have died during the recent political violence, including at least 28 shot by security forces Feb. 7. During a time when Ravalomanana seemed to enjoy the upper hand, he fired the younger man as mayor.
Rajoelina, who is both popular and widely disliked, gained power as the result of an opportunity created by a divided military.
Earlier in the week, army mutineers declared support for Rajoelina while other military officers professed neutrality. There were reports of acrimony and drawn guns at a Tuesday meeting where both Rajoelina and some army officers rejected the idea of an interim military directorate. Envoys and church leaders also were present.
The unfolding situation remained puzzling, and people on the street expressed confusion about whether they were now being governed by the military, the ex-mayor or some unseen foreign hand.
Rumors were plentiful. “The problem is France,” said Harinanga Ranilisoa, 42, a dressmaker. “It wants to again run Madagascar, and it is doing so through Andry Rajoelina.”
Madagascar is a former French colony of 20 million who are overwhelmingly poor. It is the fourth-largest island in the world and its beauty has spawned a huge tourist trade, which now has been crippled by the political turmoil. Many foreign investors interested in the country’s mineral wealth have likewise been scared away.