Madagascar needs clean start, former PM turned candidate says

PARIS Fri Jun 21, 2013 2:53pm EDT

Madagascar's new president Andry Rajoelina (R) talks to Monja Roindefo, the man he named prime minister, at Antananarivo city centre March 18, 2009. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

Madagascar's new president Andry Rajoelina (R) talks to Monja Roindefo, the man he named prime minister, at Antananarivo city centre March 18, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Siphiwe Sibeko

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PARIS (Reuters) - Madagascar President Andry Rajoelina's reluctance to give up power has become a serious impediment to the island nation's progress, his former prime minister turned rival, Monja Roindefo, said on Friday.

Seeking French support in a presidential election due in August, he told Reuters the Indian Ocean state deserved a fresh start and that this was not possible under any of the candidates having already served as president.

The vote aims to restore constitutional order after more than four years of political crisis that scared off investors and devastated the vital tourism sector.

However, the African Union and former colonial power France have rejected the candidacy of two former presidents and the wife of another, throwing the long-awaited vote into disarray and leaving nearly 40 other candidates vying for the post.

"The Malagasy people want a clean slate. They are fed up with elections being postponed... and with the arrogance of those who act as if they owned Madagascar," Roindefo said in an interview.

When Roindefo ran for the presidency in 2006 he got just 21 votes in a ballot he said was rigged.

Madagascar slid into turmoil in 2009 when disc jockey-turned-politician Andry Rajoelina took power with military support and ousted Marc Ravalomanana. Donors froze budget support and the African Union shunned the state as a result.

Rajoelina and Ravalomanana both bowed to pressure from regional powers in January when they agreed not to run in the elections. But Rajoelina said in May the deal was broken when Ravalomanana's wife, Lalao, said she would run.

The about face has generated political and economic uncertainty in the hilly island of 20 million, which is as vast as Arizona and Nevada combined and has major reserves of oil and minerals, including gold, chrome, uranium, cobalt and nickel.

France joined the African Union earlier this month in saying it would not recognize the vote if Rajoelina, Lalao Ravalomanana and another former president, Didier Ratsiraka, were candidates.

"They have to pull out, or else they're trampling the nation's interest," Roindefo said. "Rajoelina is hanging onto power but the state is falling apart."

Roindefo was Rajoelina's first prime minister in 2009 but was quickly ousted and has since become a fierce critic.

He accused the government of reneging on its promises, mismanaging the country and bringing poverty and mortality rates to levels seen in war-torn states.

Social indicators in Madagascar have indeed worsened since the 2009 crisis, with 77 percent of households now living below the poverty line, one of the highest rates in Africa.

Roindefo, 47 and a consultant for foreign companies looking to invest in Madagascar, said his campaign, called "Beautiful Madagascar", aimed to revive tourism, improve public infrastructure and ensure that "the Malagasy economy benefits the Malagasy".

Oil and mining tenders should be primarily allotted to companies contributing to the island's development and employing local youth, he said.

(Reporting by Natalie Huet; Editing by Michael Roddy)

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