November 22, 2010 / 2:03 PM / 8 years ago

Madagascar's new constitution approved in ballot

Madagascar's President Andry Rajoelina in Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa, November 3, 2009. REUTERS/Irada Humbatova

ANTANANARIVO (Reuters) - Voters in Madagascar approved a new constitution that will allow Africa’s youngest leader to stand in presidential elections scheduled for May 2011, according to provisional results released on Monday.

The new basic law is meant to be the first step toward constitutional order in a country that has been stuck in political gridlock since President Andry Rajoelina forced his predecessor, Marc Ravalomanana, into exile in March 2009.

Rajoelina came under further pressure last week when a group of dissident army officers threatened to overthrow the government and install a military council. The rebels were arrested on Saturday after an army assault on their barracks.

The new charter lowers the minimum age for a president to 35 from 40, meaning 36-year-old Rajoelina would be eligible to stand, even though the diplomatically isolated leader has so far said he will not run.

The electoral commission said that with votes in from 99.37 percent of the Indian Ocean island’s polling stations, 74.13 percent had voted “Yes” on a 52.91 percent turnout.

“These figures should not change much,” said the independent electoral commission’s president, Hery Rakotomanana.

While political analysts had expected the “Yes” camp to win, they said a close result and a turnout of less than 50 percent would be damaging for Rajoelina.

The result is unlikely, however, to ease the diplomatic pressure on Rajoelina to engage in talks with his main political opponents, who called for a boycott of the referendum.

A bloc of southern African states that includes Madagascar said on Saturday it did not support the referendum because the roadmap was not agreed by all the main opposition parties.

Editing by David Clarke and Tim Pearce

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