Africa leaders mull Madagascar vote without two rivals

MAPUTO — Southern African leaders were Saturday mulling presidential elections in Madagascar that would exclude the two main rivals, strongman Andry Rajoelina and ousted Marc Ravalomanana, a mediator said.

Seychelles Foreign Minister Jean-Paul Adams told AFP that the Southern African Development Community (SADC) summit was discussing the proposal to end a standoff between the two rivals that has stalled elections in the troubled country.

"The idea that neither of them present themselves was considered with attention by the summit," Adam said at the two-day summit that began Friday in the Mozambican capital Maputo.

"While the summit recognises the right of each individual to present themselves to elections, they have taken note ... that if both presidents were not to stand, then that would facilitate the whole process of appeasement leading to peaceful elections," he said.

Neither side has yet reacted to the SADC proposals.

The 15-nation bloc suspended Madagascar from its ranks in 2009 after Rajoelina toppled Ravalomanana.
The question of Ravolomanana's return from exile in South Africa has been the main stumbling block to the holding of elections to end the three-year crisis on Africa's largest island.

Rajoelina says Ravalomanana should be prevented, at all costs, from returning home.

Ravalomanana was sentenced in absentia to life imprisonment over the killing of 36 protesters by presidential guards during unrest in 2009, and currently faces life in prison with hard labour if he returns.
Adam said SADC is working on a plan to ensure peace and security should Ravalomanana go back home.
"There is agreement that the return of president Ravalomanana will be regulated in such a way that there is no threat to the security of Madagascar and also no threat to himself," Adam said.

The Seychelles has in recent weeks hosted two failed mediation attempts to get the two leaders to patch up their differences.

Mauritius Foreign Minister Arvin Boolell said the peace plan signed by the feuding sides signed in September last year under the auspices of SADC has to be respected.

"We have to see compliance with the roadmap," Boolell said.

The summit which ends on Saturday is also set to discuss the troubles in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo where 250,000 people have fled their homes since April, when a rebel group calling itself M23 took up arms against government troops.

Zimbabwe, where political players are yet to adopt a new constitution to pave the way for elections, was also due to be tabled.

A source following the summit said the regional leaders were likely to urge Zimbabwe's powersharing partners to develop a roadmap with timelines for the adoption of the draft constitution and lay conditions for free and fair elections.

But if any "difficulties" arise over the constitution, South African President Jacob Zuma, the SADC mediator on Zimbabwe, would be called upon to help resolve the differences.

The party of President Robert Mugabe is unhappy with several provisions of a draft constitution, especially where it would rein in presidential powers while bolstering those of parliament.

Mugabe was forced into an uneasy coalition with his arch-rival Morgan Tsvangirai to avoid a slide into a full-scale conflict after the violence-ridden elections in 2008.