(repeats to remove extraneous word “came” in last line)
By Richard Lough
NAIROBI, Nov 18 (Reuters) - Here are some questions and answers on the rifts within Madagascar’s army and what the might be the implications of the latest coup plot since President Andry Rajoelina’s own power grab in 2009.
The coup attempt by a handful of rebel soldiers appears to be foundering. They show no sign of dissolving government institutions, storming the presidential palace and shutting down the capital Antananarivo’s airport as they said they would.
One military chief told Reuters talks were ongoing between the high ranking officers and the dissident ringleaders at the barracks from where the rebellion was launched.
Rajoelina’s government said it had the situation under control. Prime Minister Camille Vital, himself a military officer, pledged on Wednesday to crush any mutiny.
“Rajoelina will probably survive this storm providing that in the next few hours the army, those that are loyal to him, remain behind him,” said Madagascar expert Lydie Bokar. “The next few hours are critical.”
Spearheading the mutiny are Colonel Charles Andrianasoavina and General Noel Rakotonandrasana, both of whom threw their weight behind Rajoelina’s power-grab in March 2009.
Rakotonandrasana was promoted from colonel and appointed armed forces minister. But he was sacked this year as rumours swirled of plot to overthrow Rajoelina.
Madagascar’s army has long been plagued by internal rifts. Ravalomanana paid the price for losing the trust of large numbers of his troops, some of whom swung behind Rajoelina.
But recurring political ructions and Rajoelina’s perceived disconnect with the people over the past 18 months, especially in Antananarivo, have meant those divides within the armed forces remain as wide as ever, if along different fault lines.
For now, no other military barracks have overtly supported the dissident leaders. As it stands, they appear to lack the muscle to topple the government.
But it is not yet clear what the rebels are demanding and whether either side is willing to make concessions.
If Rajoelina feels too threatened by the challenge to his leadership, he could order his troops in to quash the dissidents.
What is apparent, however, is that the military bosses seem reluctant to march into the dissidents’ bunker with guns blazing. They seem intent on averting bloodshed and, perhaps more crucially, an armed conflict within their own ranks.
If Rajoelina pushes his troops too hard to quash the rebellion by force, and there is a genuine will among his soldiers to avoid fighting, then Rajoelina could risk turning his own backers against him.
To end this latest crisis, Rajoelina may have to offer Colonel Noel Rakotonandrasana some kind of role either within the armed forces or his administration.
In the eyes of Madagascar’s opposition and most foreign powers, Rajoelina lacks legitimacy after first seizing power unconstitutionally and then tearing up a string of internationally brokered power-sharing deals.
Any challenge to his leadership simply reinforces the underlying anger within parts of the population and armed forces towards his failure to resolve the political instability.
The mutiny came as Madagascar voted in a constitutional referendum that was seen by many as a test of confidence in the former DJ. The opposition boycotted the vote but a convincing win for the “Yes” camp backed up by a high turnout might boost Rajoelina’s democratic credential, at least at home.
At the moment, early provisional results show voter turnout at around 50 percent. Anything below that would be damaging for a leader who says he was swept to power on a wave of popular support. (Editing by Alison Williams)