Madagascar president challenges impeachment in court

Madagascar president challenges impeachment in court
A file photo taken late on January 25, 2014 shows Madagascar's then newly elected President Hery Rajaonarimampianina (C) visiting the victims of a grenade explosion in the Anosy district in Antananarivo.

ANTANANARIVO - Madagascar's president launched a legal challenge on Tuesday to a parliamentary impeachment vote which has threatened to reignite political turmoil in the Indian Ocean island nation.

Lawmakers behind last week's vote accuse President Hery Rajaonarimampianina of violating the constitution and failing to deliver on promises since his election at the end of 2013. The constitutional court is reviewing the vote.

Rajaonarimampianina's election has brought a fragile economic recovery after a prolonged crisis sparked by a 2009 military coup that drove away donors and sent the economy into freefall. Donors say any new crisis would threaten modest gains.

"The advisers of the president lodged the president's defence (on Tuesday morning)," said the clerk of the High Constitutional Court, Samuel Andriamorasoa Ralison.

He did not give details, but Rajaonarimampianina questioned the parliamentary vote count on May 26 and dismissed charges made against him in the debate, including accusations of corruption.

In the vote, the parliament speaker said 121 of the 151 lawmakers supported impeachment. Rajaonarimampianina's supporters said votes exceeded the number of lawmakers present.

Foreign donors and the International Monetary Fund have resumed co-operation since Rajaonarimampianina's election, a move that analysts say will help draw in more mining and other investors into the mineral-rich nation.

But tensions remain. Defence Minister General Dominique Rakotozafy said on Saturday the court's ruling must be accepted and told politicians not to drag the army back into the fray.

"We warn and promise that we will not tolerate any attempt at unconstitutional change of power in all forms, civilian or military, that may cause a new crisis," he said.

Surrounded by senior military officers, he called on politicians and the nation "to refrain from any attempt to lead the security forces into actions contrary to their missions".

RELIGION

Opponents of the president say he has violated Madagascar's secular constitution by giving speeches in churches, in a nation where just over half of the 23 million-strong population practise mostly local animist religions.

Mixing religion and politics is a sensitive issue. Former president Marc Ravalomanana, ousted in the 2009 coup, was accused of using churches to drum up support when in power.

Rajaonarimampianina has also been under pressure over his handling of the economy and public services. The government has struggled to pay for fuel to run subsidised power stations and faced a plague outbreak last year that killed dozens of people.

Ravalomanana, who now backs Rajaonarimampianina, called for dialogue. "We need stability," he said. "I advocate the establishment of a stability pact between the Presidency and the National Assembly (parliament)."

Donors have said the nation needs reforms and stability. Before the parliament vote, the United States urged lawmakers to put the welfare of the nation above any differences.

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