February 18, 2010 / 6:09 AM / 9 years ago

Madagascar's leader pushes elections back to May

ANTANANARIVO (Reuters) - Madagascar’s diplomatically isolated leader on Wednesday pushed back widely criticised parliamentary elections from March to May and pledged the vote on the Indian Ocean island would be democratic and transparent.

Madagascar's President Andry Rajoelina greets his supporters at the end of a religious service at Antananarivo's city centre, March 15 ,2009. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

President Andry Rajoelina risks sanctions and the possible cancellation of critical foreign aid if he fails to convince opposition leaders, regional neighbours and donor nations that he will restore democracy.

Rajoelina, 35, seized power in coup last year to become Africa’s youngest leader but numerous attempts by international mediators to strike an agreement with the aggrieved opposition to end the year-long political crisis have failed.

“Everyone is convinced, whether that’s the international community or the citizens of Madagascar, that elections are the only way out of this crisis,” Rajoelina said on Wednesday.

“The transition is ready to take all steps to ensure the elections are transparent and democratic,” he told reporters.

The parliamentary elections were originally slated for March, but Rajoelina came under increasing pressure from the opposition and international donors concerned the polls would lack credibility and legitimacy.

Rajoelina said if there were a consensus to hold elections in May, he was ready to examine solutions with the opposition. He also said that if the international community came up with acceptable ways to end the crisis, he would consider them.

Some analysts say the island’s heavy reliance on donor aid gives mediators a chance to drag Rajoelina back to talks.

Moderates in the government argue Rajoelina needs international support and stability to reboot the stagnant economy and soothe the fears of foreign investors, analysts say.

Overseas investment surged to around $1.47 billion in 2008 from $86 million in 2005 as companies including Rio Tinto and Sherritt International poured money into the extraction and exploration of oil and minerals.

But the administration is split over the need to bow to pressure from the African Union and European Union, both of which are set to discuss imposing sanctions on Madagascar.

“Let’s be clear. We are not afraid of sanctions on individuals. But Madagascar, and the Malgasy, must not suffer because of the hatred and egotism of certain people,” Rajoelina said.

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