United States urges Madagascar to hold free, fair elections
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States on Friday called on Madagascar to restore democratic rule through free and fair elections, after the African nation's government said it was postponing a presidential vote by a month to August 23.
"We call on the country's political leaders to work toward free, fair, and internationally recognized elections that restore democratic rule, and for free, fair, and independent elections to be held," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.
President Andry Rajoelina pledged to hold elections shortly after he seized power with military support in 2009. An electoral commission said this week it could not hold elections because foreign donors had suspended financing after Rajoelina backtracked last month on a promise not to run.
Both Rajoelina and Marc Ravalomanana, the man he unseated from power and who has been in exile in South Africa since, both bowed to regional pressure in January when they agreed not to run in the elections.
Psaki said the United States supported efforts by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to mediate a solution to the political crisis on the Indian Ocean island.
The United States opposed a World Bank loan to Madagascar in November last year, saying it was concerned with increased human trafficking of Malagasy women and children since the 2009 coup.
The World Bank went ahead with the $167 million in emergency lending to Madagascar despite the opposition from its largest member country. The bulk of the funding went toward repairing roads, schools and health centers, which were damaged by a cyclone. The remainder, about $65 million, went to subsidies for teachers and grants for health services at schools.
Social indicators in Madagascar have worsened since the crisis, with 77 percent of households now living below the poverty line, one of the highest rates in Africa.
(Reporting by Lesley Wroughton and Paul Simao)