Calm has returned to the streets of Antananarivo, the capital of Madagascar, where as many as 100 people may have died in anti-government protests in the last week. Despite calls by opposition leaders for a national strike, life around the capital is returning to normal, markets are busy and government offices are open.
The country now finds itself at a crossroads, however, one that requires foresight and statesmanship by its leaders if it is to preserve the democratic and economic gains of recent years. The situation is still fragile, and the future of the nation requires that both the government and its critics come together to discuss their differences rationally and act in the best interests of the people they represent.
Antananarivo Mayor Andry Rajoelina called opposition supporters into the streets after broadcasts were interrupted on a radio station owned by the mayor. The protests grew and fires were set in several locations. At one point Mr. Rajoelina appeared to overreach, announcing that President Marc Ravalomanana had lost control of the Indian Ocean island nation and that he was in charge.
Admirably, Madagascar’s neighbors quickly condemned the violence and urged all parties to respect democratic principles. Following on the African Union's recent condemnation and suspension of the military juntas in Guinea and Mauritania, former AU Chairman and Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete said that any efforts to remove democratically elected governments from office are unfortunate and unacceptable.
The United States is deeply concerned as well. It strongly opposes both threats and actions intended to achieve unconstitutional transfers of power. At the same time, the government of Madagascar must not abandon constitutional principles or the rule of law as it searches for a solution to the crisis – and it is critical for it and the President to listen carefully to the legitimate grievances of the Malagasy people that underlie this unfortunate crisis.
For their own good and the good of their nation, Malagasy leaders and people should avoid all further violence, and calm should be maintained to promote peaceful political dialogue. The U.S. reaffirms its commitment to Madagascar’s democratic development and urges all parties to respect the constitution as they resolve their differences.