Voters in Madagascar have approved a new constitution that will lower the minimum age requirement for presidential candidates, according to provisional results released Monday by the country's electoral commission. According to preliminary results, nearly 74 percent of voters approved the constitution [Reuters report], which will keep President Andry Rajoelina [official profile, in French; BBC profile] in power and allow him to run in the next presidential election scheduled for May 2011. The referendum poll, which had an approximate 53 percent voter turnout, had been overshadowed by strong political protest. On Wednesday, General Noel Rakotonandrasana allegedly led a group of about 20 soldiers into the capital city and tried to take control [JURIST report] of government institutions and seize power from Rajoelina in a failed coup attempt. Former president Marc Ravalomanana [BBC profile], who was ousted last year by Rajoelina, supported the military action [AFP report] and saw it as an effort to promote democracy.
Madagascar has faced ongoing political unrest [Reuters timeline] for almost two years, and Rajoelina's regime has not been recognized by the international community. In August, a Madagascar court sentenced [JURIST report] Ravalomanana to life in prison with hard labor for ordering the killing of opposition protesters in February 2009. Ravalomanana, who has been living in South Africa since his overthrow in March of last year, was sentenced in absentia [BBC report] on charges of murder and accessory to murder in connection with the deaths of at least 30 people by his presidential guard. Ravalomanana has been convicted [JURIST report] three times since he left power, and his lawyer claimed that the trials have been politically motivated to keep him from returning to Madagascar and running for reelection. Earlier in August, the country's political parties gave proposed names [AFP report] for the country's next prime minister to Rajoelina and scheduled last week's constitutional referendum, parliamentary elections in March and a first round of presidential polls next May.