August 14, 2010 / 3:01 PM / in 8 years

UPDATE 1-Rivals shun Madagascar leader's pact with parties

* Deal sets legislative and presidential election dates

* Opposition leaders reject agreement

* Neighbours and donors unlikely unlikely to support pact

(Adds analyst’s quote and details)

By Alain Iloniaina

ANTANANARIVO, Aug 14 (Reuters) - Madagascar’s President Andry Rajoelina signed a deal late on Friday with dozens of minor parties aimed at ending a protracted political crisis, but the pact was rejected by the country’s main opposition leaders.

Political analysts said it was unlikely the Indian Ocean island’s regional neighbours and donor countries would accept the agreement without Rajoelina’s rivals supporting it.

Speaking at the signing ceremony, Rajoelina said it marked a step towards a new constitution for the country, adding: “Our signatures take us in that direction.”

The agreement between the 36-year-old former disc jockey and 99 parties confirmed him as president, giving him the power to appoint ministers on the recommendation of party leaders and members of the interim two-chamber parliament.

A referendum on a new constitution will be held as planned on Nov. 17 this year. A legislative election will now take place on March 16 next year and a presidential ballot on May 4.

“No one can any longer criticise the path we have taken as unilateralist,” Rajoelina said.

The legislative elections, if held on the agreed date, would take place exactly two years after dissident troops backing Rajoelina stormed one of Antananarivo’s two presidential palaces, forcing incumbent President Marc Ravalomanana’s departure into exile.

Rajoelina’s takeover was branded a coup by regional neighbours and donors froze budgetary assistance and aid worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

Retired General Guy Ratimoarivony, a director at Madagascar’s Centre of Diplomatic and Strategic Studies, said the deal was likely to fall short of the consensus government donor countries and some African powers had urged.

AU MEMBERSHIP SUSPENDED

“As it stands, I do not think the international community will accept this agreement ... (it) wants a government of national unity. It could perhaps accept this if the three (opposition) movements were on board,” Ratimoarivony said.

The African Union has suspended Madagascar’s membership and in March imposed sanctions against Rajoelina and more than 100 other people who backed his seizure of power, including military officers.

Nineteen months of political turmoil has stunted economic growth on an island know for its deposits of oil, coal, uranium, chrome, nickel and cobalt. The economy is expected to expand by a meagre 0.8 percent this year after years of steady growth.

International mediators brokered a series of power sharing agreements between Rajoelina, Ravalomanana and two other former presidents, but they all collapsed in bickering over the allocation of ministerial posts.

“This is unilateralism once again and does not respect the principal of inclusivity,” said Ange Andrianarisoa, head of the former President Didier Ratsiraka’s political movement.

The parties of Ravalomanana, Ratsiraka and former President Albert Zafy rejected Friday’s agreement, although some party members did put their names to the deal.

“It is wrong to say that the Ravalomanana, Zafy and Ratsiraka movements signed the agreement. Those who penned their signature did so in their own name,” said Andrianarisoa. (Reporting by Alain Iloniaina; editing by Richard Lough and Andrew Dobbie)

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