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Brooke Shaffer

Author, Ski Patroller, and Pasta-Eater Extraordinaire

Famous Coups, Part 1: Madagascar

Seeing how the big issue at the end up Windup and throughout Stopwatch is going to be the coup and overthrow of the Hands, I thought it would be interesting to look at a few real life coups.  This week's episode is, fittingly enough, Madagascar.  And we will begin with the 2001 elections.

In 1999, Marc Ravalomanana was elected as mayor of Madagascar's capital city Antananarivo and held the position until 2001 when he announced he would be running for president.  He claimed to have won the seat against Didier Ratsiraka (who himself had launched a coup in 1975) but there was never a clear majority vote and no run-off was ever held.  Not all nations recognized Ravalomanana as president right away, but he held the seat, his supporters and the military wresting control from Ratsiraka who continued to cry foul.

On November 18 2006, retired General Andrianfidisoa (also called Fidy), declared Ravalomanana unfit to rule and attempted to inspire a military coup, setting up a base of operations at the Ivato Airport in the capital city.  Ravalomanana was in France at the time.  Upon his return, his plane had to be diverted from Antananarivo to Mahajanga.  There were reports of gunfire at the airport the same day, with one soldier killed and another wounded.

Fidy was attempting to run in the presidential elections that year, but was denied, saying he had not paid the appropriate deposit to have his name listed on the ballot.  Fidy decried Ravalomanana as authoritarian and the government unconstitutional.  On November 22, Fidy had received the backing of 14 other presidential candidates, but did not win the election.

When forces were dispatched to arrest Fidy shortly after the initial coup, they found the airport camp abandoned and he was not at home.  Fidy remained elusive until December 12, when he was captured in a hotel room.  His lawyers maintained that his intentions had been misinterpreted, that he was not attempting a coup or any overthrow of the government, but simply wished to alert Ravalomanana to the situation of the armed forces.  He was sentenced to four years in prison.

But that's not all, folks!

In 2007, Andry Rajoelina was elected mayor of Antananarivo.  He and President Ravalomanana did not get along, and tension quickly escalated between the two as the president enacted a number of policies Rajoelina did not agree with, including plans to lease parts of the island to a Korean company.

In 2008, Ravalomanana shut down several major TV stations and other broadcasting services for planning to air an interview with former president Didier Ratsiraka.

Rajoelina called for a series of protests in January of 2009, including all TV and radio stations to shut down, for everyone to stay home and not go to work (creating ville morte, "ghost town"), and even for the military to ignore orders and stay home.  Ravalomanana, who was in South Africa at the time, cut his trip short and returned to Madagascar to re-establish order, denouncing the protests as a coup d'etat.

In February of 2009, support for Rajoelina began to decline and his calls for protest were met with fewer participants.  He announced on Feb. 3 that he was setting up his own government and called for Ravalomanana's resignation by the 7th.  The High Constitutional Court said he had no power to set himself up as president, nor depose the current president, as it was unconstitutional.  He was removed from his position as mayor.  Rajoelina protested this, saying he would face arrest if necessary.

On February 7, Rajoelina and his supporters, about 20,000 of them, marched on the Presidential Palace, past the barricades.  Palace guards fired live rounds into the crowd.  The death toll was estimated to be about 130, though it is disputed.

The actions of the palace guards against the people swung momentum back in Rajoelina's favor as he declared that he would serve his full term as president.

On February 19, Rajoelina's supporters took over several governmental ministries, including the Minister of the Interior.  These new appointees and as many as 50 supporters were later arrested by Ravalomanana's forces.

Ravalomanana and Rajoelina met for peace talks on February 21, and again every day until the 25th when Ravalomanana did not show.  Rajoelina withdrew shortly after, vowing to continue the struggle and remain the people's president.

More protests in March of 2009 turned deadly, and security forces attempted to arrest Rajoelina but were unsuccessful as he had taken refuge in the French Embassy.

On March 8, 2009, Soldiers at Camp Capsat near Antananarivo mutinied against the high military commanders, objecting to the use of deadly forces against protesters.  In response to this, General Rasolofomahandry informed President Ravalomanana that the political parties had 72 hours to figure things out or else he would be assuming control of the government.  The general was subsequently fired.  This also prompted the resignation of the Defense Minister.  Ravalomanana appointed a new general and new defense minister.  The minister was loyal to Ravalomanana, but the general declared that the army would remain neutral.

On March 13, the chief of military police sent tanks against the presidential palace.  Rajoelina gave the president four hours to voluntarily resign.  Ravalomanana refused and instead called for a referendum.  Rajoelina rejected this proposal and called for Ravalomanana's arrest.

On March 16, the presidential palace and the central bank were seized by the military.  Rajoelina declared himself president.

On March 17, Ravalomanana was forced to hand over power and authority to Rajoelina.  He fled into exile in Swaziland.

On March 25, the Madagascar Navy called for Rajoelina's resignation and even prosecution, saying that he had paid and bribed military officials to support him.  The Navy also stated that it wanted no interference from other countries.

Over the coming days, Ravalomanana's supporters called for peace talks and for Rajoelina to return power to Ravalomanana.  These protests turning violent and force was needed to break them up.  Eventually, it was decided that the two parties would be invited for talks mediated by a third party.  At these talks, it was decided that a constitutional referendum would be help in September, with presidential and parliamentary elections held the next year.

Rajoelina's government put off the elections until 2013.  The new constitution declared that those who had not lived in Madagascar for the last six months could not run for president, which effectively excluded all former presidents who were living in exile, including Ravalomanana and Ratsika.  Finally, the elections were set for October of 2013.  The international community demanded that Ravalomanana and Rajoelina both withdraw their names from candidacy, which they did.  Hery Rajaonarimampianina won the election and was installed as president in 2014.

In 2018, both Ravalomanana and Rajoelina ran for president in the election.  Both claimed victory.  Rajoelina was eventually declared the victor and he assumed control in 2019.

So there's your history lesson for today, folks.

-Brooke Shaffer

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