African group rejects Madagascar’s new leader

Andry Rajoelina is six years too young to be Madagascar's president under its constitution.
A regional body comprised of several southern African nations is refusing to recognize Madagascar opposition leader Andry Rajoelina as the island nation’s new president, an official said.

The Southern African Development Community group, which met Thursday in Swaziland, has “completely rejected the legitimacy” of Rajoelina, the organization’s executive secretary, Tomaz Salomao, told CNN. Madagascar’s military handed over the country’s reins to Rajoelina on Wednesday, ending a two-month political crisis. The former disc jockey-turned-mayor of the nation’s capital city declared himself president of a transitional government, and was confirmed by Madagascar’s high court. He is expected to be inaugurated on Saturday. Former President Marc Ravalomanana ceded power to the military on Tuesday after insisting over the weekend he would remain in control. Analysts have said he likely had little choice but to step down once he had lost much of the army’s support.

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SADC member states are Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland, United Republic of Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Watch more on president’s resignation » In addition, Kabinga Pande, Zambia’s foreign affairs minister, told reporters Wednesday at a news conference that the Zambian government was opposed to Madagascar’s change in government, according to an article in Thursday’s Zambia Times. Pande said Zambia has called for Madagascar’s suspension from the SADC and the African Union, according to the article. Earlier, the African Union had warned that any power transfer aided by the military would amount to a coup d’etat. The AU has since removed any mention of a coup in its official communiqué and called on the transitional government to “comply scrupulously with the provisions of the constitution of Madagascar on interim arrangements.”

U.S. State Department spokesman Robert Wood told reporters: “We believe recent political developments in Madagascar constitute an undemocratic transfer of power. And we’re currently evaluating what impact this transfer is going to have on all elements of our relationship with the government of Madagascar.” A constitutional crisis, however, may be looming. Rajoelina, at 34, is too young to serve as president, according to Madagascar’s constitution, which sets the minimum age at 40. And while his supporters pledged to hold elections in two years, the constitution says the head of parliament’s upper house calls elections within two months if something happens to the president.