It was an outcome not many people could have foreseen; certainly not the political heavyweights who have dominated the political scene in Madagascar for the past decade. fter years of wrangling between seemingly irreconcilable political actors, the Special Electoral Court in Madagascar has now paved the way for a solution to the country's political crisis that is controversial and in some aspects even radical.
One would be justified to ask whether this result of the mediation efforts - which excludes all the major players in the political dispute from next month's presidential elections - is fair and has the potential to usher in a new era.
Is this a novel approach by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the African Union (AU), which, in the past, tended to favour power-sharing deals like the ones in Kenya and Zimbabwe? Or have events on the ground in Madagascar compelled the mediators to take such drastic measures in order to break an interminable deadlock?
Last month, the newly reconvened Special Electoral Court excluded current President Andry Rajoelina, former president Didier Ratsiraka and Lalao Ravalomanana, wife of ousted president Marc Ravalomanana, from participating in the elections planned for 25 October, with a possible second round on 20 December.
The court, which had been reshuffled due to an intervention by international mediators, made this decision on technical grounds. It ruled that Rajoelina had handed in his candidature after the expiry date and that the two other candidates, Ratsiraka and Ravalomanana, hadn't resided in Madagascar for six months before the election, as stipulated in the constitution.
This decision was a dramatic reversal of an earlier ruling by the court's predecessor that the three main actors would be allowed to run for the elections, with obvious flaws in its interpretation of the electoral law. At the time the international mediators declared that they wouldn't accept the outcome of an election under such circumstances and called for a new court to be convened.
Some, especially those in the Ravalomanana camp, now accuse the SADC mediator, former Mozambican president Joachim Chissano, of being biased against them and say this solution will not bring lasting peace to Madagascar.
A spokesperson for Ravalomanana, who lives in exile in South Africa, said last week that mediators failed to keep to the SADC road map agreed to earlier, which would include the return of Ravalomanana to his country and the return of his assets seized after the coup by Rajoelina in March 2009.
The Ravalomanana mouvance says the preferred solution would have been to accept Lalao as Ravalomanana's replacement, or, as a last resort, allow it to nominate another replacement candidate, even though the deadline for replacement candidates, as stipulated by the Special Electoral Court, has already expired.
Ravalomanana's camp now says it believes elections are not a solution to the crisis and that a coalition government, as seen in other parts of Africa, would have been the ideal outcome. However, four years down the line, with a list of broken agreements and unkept promises, circumstances in Madagascar differ from that found in other similar crises in Africa. The planned elections could, in fact, provide Madagascar with a fresh start.
Several of the 33 presidential candidates are already campaigning for the upcoming poll and reports in the local media on the jostling for position by other political players certainly seem to suggest there is no going back on the decision of the Special Electoral Court. Besides, both parties had already accepted the so-called ni-ni (neither-nor) solution, with neither Rajoelina nor Marc Ravalomanana running for elections, at the end of last year.
For now, it remains to be seen what the Ravalomanana camp is going to do, since the former president has emerged as one of the big losers in the mediation.
Critics of the Ravalomanana camp say it was a disingenuous move to present Lalao Ravalomanana in April this year as a replacement candidate after her husband agreed to withdraw, and that it just served to prolong the crisis, as it prompted Rajoelina to renege on his earlier commitment not to run.
Rajoelina, the former coup leader, has meanwhile accepted that he will not be in the race and is said to be cooperating with the mediators to smooth the playing field ahead of the elections.
It is possible that he will run as a member of parliament, only to return to the political scene as prime minister - should one of his allies win - in a scenario reminiscent of the one that Russian President Vladimir Putin played out some years ago.
The current crisis has seen a plethora of mediators and international actors intervene with sometimes diverging interests and strategies in Madagascar. It has been argued that the dispute among the mediators has been one of the reasons why the crisis has dragged on for so long, causing a coup leader to stay in power for almost five years.
The United Nations (UN), the AU's Peace and Security Council, SADC, the International Francophone Organisation (OIF), France, the US and others were often at loggerheads over what should be done in Madagascar.
Initially, SADC and South Africa strongly supported Marc Ravalomanana's unconditional return to power, while France was seen by some as backing a deal that would allow Rajoelina to run in fresh elections. The AU and the UN favoured a more conciliatory approach, prioritising peace and stability over the principled position of SADC.
In the end, the neither-nor solution, first mooted by France in 2010, prevailed. Although the final result is far from ideal, due to the exclusion of those actors who command the most support among the Malagasy people, it must be seen as a rare moment of unanimity between mediation actors who in the past never hesitated to undermine each other.
Madagascar has suffered more than a decade of turmoil since the months-long strikes and protest movements that finally brought Ravalomanana to power in 2002, which also followed a deal with his predecessor Ratsiraka, who didn't want to recognise his electoral defeat.
The ideal for Madagascar is that the presidential elections should go ahead, which could pave the way for a newly elected president to start the difficult job of building political reconciliation in Madagascar.
- Paul-Simon Handy, Head, Conflict Prevention and Risk Analysis Division, ISS Pretoria and Liesl Louw-Vaudran, ISS Consultant