June 29, 2010 / 9:32 AM / in 7 years

UPDATE 1-Madagascar postpones referendum on constitution

* Constitution yet to be completed

* National conference yet to be held to discuss draft

(Adds details, background)

By Alain Iloniaina

ANTANANARIVO, June 29 (Reuters) - Madagascar has postponed indefinitely a referendum on a new constitution because the charter has not yet been completed, the head of the election commission said.

The referendum is seen as a first concrete step towards holding elections aimed at ending a leadership battle that has paralysed the Indian Ocean island since Andry Rajoelina toppled former leader Marc Ravalomanana with the help of dissident troops in March last year.

“For now, the constitution has not yet been finalised, so we can no longer organise the referendum on Aug. 12,” election commission chief Hery Rakotomalala said late on Monday.

“Officially, we can say that it has been indefinitely postponed,” Rakotomalala told Reuters.

The new charter has not been completed as a national conference to draft the document itself has not taken place.

Rajoelina has tasked a coalition of civil society groups with organising the conference but the president of these groups warned last week against announcing a date for the meeting that would not be met.

International mediators brokered a string of power-sharing deals between Rajoelina, Ravalomanana and two other former presidents last year, but they all collapsed after the bitter rivals failed to agree on how to share out the top posts.

Rajoelina said in May that he would not stand in elections meant to take place in November.

But the European Union, the island’s largest donor, announced earlier this month that it would extend its suspension of 600 million euros ($740 million) of development aid for another year as a result of the lack of progress in restoring democracy.

Political turmoil has hammered the island’s tourism sector and analysts expect foreign investment to slow sharply. (Writing by David Lewis; editing by George Obulutsa and Giles Elgood)

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