Former Madagascar president Ratsiraka to contest July election

Reuters News

4/27/2013 1:13:02 PM - Reuters News

By Alain Iloniaina

ANTANANARIVO (Reuters) - Madagascar's former president Didier Ratsiraka will contest national elections in July in a bid to become the Indian Ocean island state's leader for the third time, his supporters said on Saturday.

Madagascar has been in crisis since Andry Rajoelina, now president, led an uprising that ousted former President Marc Ravalomanana from office in 2009, triggering turmoil that scared off investors and devastated the vital tourism sector.

Both Rajoelina, a former disc jockey, and Ravalomanana, a wealthy businessman now in exile in South Africa, have said they will not contest the July 24 presidential election.

Regional powers put pressure on Rajoelina to stand aside, fearing fresh turmoil after this year's vote, while Ravalomanana was sentenced in absentia to life in prison after he was accused of ordering elite troops to kill Rajoelina's supporters.

Ratsiraka returned to Madagascar earlier this month after an 11-year exile in France. He left Madagascar in 2002 after refusing to concede the previous year's poll defeat to Ravalomanana.

Before he was ousted, Ratsiraka, known locally as "Deba", or the Big Man, had ruled Madagascar for 23 of the previous 26 years.

The 76-year-old first became president in 1975 when he seized power as a young naval officer, governing Madagascar until 1993. His second stint as president lasted from 1996 to 2002.

"It is a joy for us to know that we have filed (papers for) the candidacy for President of Didier Ratsiraka," said Monfort Razafimahefa, a member of the Ratsiraka campaign.

Ratsiraka is due to hold a news conference later in the day to explain his motives for contesting the election.

A Madagascan court had sentenced Ratsiraka to 10 years hard labor for embezzlement in 2003, but the current president, Rajoelina, often said the former admiral was free to come home.

Earlier this week Ravalomanana's wife put herself forward to run in July's presidential election, a move analysts say could be aimed at preparing a comeback by the fallen leader.

(Writing By Drazen Jorgic; Editing by Stephen Powell)