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Madagascar President Urges ‘Yes’ Vote on Constitutional Change

Madagascar President Andry Rajoelina urged the country to vote “yes” in a Nov 17. constitutional referendum, making promises on housing and food subsidies, employment and large construction projects.

“The country requires your opinion on Wednesday 17th,” Rajoelina told a crowd packed into the main sports stadium in the capital, Antananarivo, yesterday. “The victory of Madagascar is in your hands.”

Rajoelina, 36, pledged development projects such as new stadiums, hospitals, housing and transportation links. “The time to talk is over. Now is the time to build,” he said, unveiling scale models of a new train system and the Indian Ocean’s largest cement factory. He also showed a life-size model of one of 10,000, two-bedroom houses to go on sale “within a few months,” and said the state would modernize Air Madagascar’s fleet of planes.

The government hopes the new constitution will end a political and economic crisis after Rajoelina ousted President Marc Ravalomanana last year. Mediation efforts by the South African Development Community, or SADC, to find a power-sharing agreement between Rajoelina and opposition leaders have failed. The opposition refused to participate in a national conference called by the government to discuss the proposed constitutional changes.

The government should re-engage with international mediators and opposition parties and review plans for the referendum, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Karl Wycoff told reporters Nov. 2.

Power Concentration

Sahondra Rabenarivo, a lawyer with the Madagascar Law Offices law firm, is voting “no.” Her main concerns were over the president’s increased concentration of power, the failure to address decentralisation and a provision that would allow the transitional parliament and president to remain in place indefinitely, she said in an interview yesterday.

She said she was concerned that a positive result in the referendum could be used to “legitimise” the government.

In his speech, Rajoelina promised to reduce prices and imports by funding the restoration of a state-owned sugar refinery. The president held a similar event two weeks ago to launch a program offering 15 basic products at about 50 percent of normal prices to underprivileged families.

Rajoelina seized power in March 2009. The government has scheduled legislative and presidential elections for next March and May respectively.

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