Rajoelina, Madagascar's ambitious president who parties on

Rajoelina, Madagascar's ambitious president who parties on

Andry Rajoelina styles himself as a 'builder president'
Andry Rajoelina styles himself as a 'builder president'

ANTANANARIVO - From the musical nights of his youth that earned his nickname "the disc jockey" to his political adventures over the past decade, life has been one long party of one kind or another for Andry Rajoelina, who on Saturday secured a second elected term as Madagascar's president.

With his smooth features, slim build and thick black hair, the 49-year-old fits the image of a playboy that his enemies try to tar him with.

But Rajoelina calls himself the "builder president" responsible for new roads, schools and hospitals, and he has made his mark on one of the world's poorest countries.

Rajoelina won re-election with about 59 percent of votes cast in the first round, according to the election commission.

But most opposition candidates boycotted the vote and say they will not recognise the results, which must still be validated by the Constitutional Court.

Born to a middle-class family, Rajoelina owes his "DJ" moniker to the parties he promoted as a youth in the capital Antananarivo.

After marrying his wife, Mialy, and helped by his skill at public speaking, Rajoelina waded into politics setting up the Tanora Gasy Vonona party, earning him another name, "TGV", after France's high-speed trains.

His political rise was fast. In 2007, he trounced the party of then president Marc Ravalomanana to become the capital's mayor.

He quickly established himself as the leading voice of the opposition, and his supporters openly defied the government with the tacit support of the military that helped oust Ravalomanana in 2009 and put him in power.

Rajoelina, in his mid-30s, struggled to guide the country out of crisis as its unelected leader.

Rivals accused him of corruption, greed, and turning a blind eye to the pillage of the country's natural resources, including its precious rosewood forests.

Those accusations earned him another nickname -- "crayfish" -- a crustacean that walks backwards.

Under international pressure, Rajoelina did not contest a 2013 election but he was voted into power in 2018.

During campaigns, he spares no expense as he travels by helicopter or private plane to the four corners of the vast country, using the support of "long-standing friends", often wealthy businessmen.

Local pop stars appear at his rallies where he makes carefully prepared speeches.

Rajoelina draws large crowds, but his critics claim many are paid to attend.

- Fast and furious -

Only months ago, Rajoelina seemed in trouble.

In June, media reports revealed that he had acquired French nationality in 2014, triggering calls for him to be disqualified from running for president.

Opponents said by law the president should lose Madagascan nationality and the right to lead the country. But courts would not declare his candidacy invalid.

He became the butt of his detractors' jokes, with some asking whether as a Frenchman he would celebrate July 14, Bastille Day, in style.

Rajoelina responded in a three-hour radio and TV interview, all smiling and flirtatious, in which he said he became French "out of love" for his three children, to allow them to pursue their studies abroad.

Barack Obama had Kenyan origins and Nelson Mandela received several honorary citizenships, he said, downplaying the debate that raged at the time.

Rajoelina thought he had put the issue to bed, but the verdict sparked opposition anger.

For more than a month, election challengers held almost daily demonstrations in Antananarivo, decrying an "institutional coup" to favour the incumbent.

Despite the legal attacks and protests, led by former presidents Ravalomanana and Hery Rajaonarimampianina, Rajoelina was not shaken.

"There are always people trying to stir up trouble in Madagascar," he lamented, maintaining his smile, as he went to vote accompanied by his wife and children.

The "builder president" told AFP in a recent interview "there is only one man today capable of leading the country".

"The Malagasy people have chosen the path of continuity and stability," he said after winning the election. But Rajoelina still faces some long nights ahead.

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