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Madagascar's 'militant mayor'

By Jonny Hogg
BBC News

Antananarivo's young mayor Andry Rajoelina
The young Andry Rajoelina has the air of pop star about him

Andry Rajoelina, the man at the centre of Madagascar's political turmoil, is a former DJ whose slick campaigning style propelled him to one of the most influential political offices on the Indian Ocean island.

He is nicknamed "TGV", after the high-speed TGV rail service in France, because of his rapid-fire personality.

The initials are also the acronym for the movement he leads - Tanora malaGasy Vonona (Young Malagasies Determined).

And he rattled on to Madagascar's political scene like a speeding train to stand for mayor in the capital, Antananarivo, in December 2007.

He had, it seemed, come from nowhere. But for many this was part of his appeal.

His message was upbeat and youthful - a call for young Malagasy to seize the day.

His campaign was slick and brash, featuring pumping music and trendy T-shirts emblazoned with his face.

There was a whiff of the pop star about him.

Tuned in

It did not seem likely, at first, that this 34-year-old - who had made his money through advertising hoardings around the capital - could possibly win against the might of the candidate backed by the president.

But almost imperceptibly his profile grew.

This is no clash of policies; it is a clash of personalities

His radio station, Viva, became the most popular in the capital.

Its distinctive jingle was heard everywhere and people found themselves humming along despite themselves.

In many ways, Mr Rajoelina used the president's own, extremely successful, campaigning tactic and turned it to his advantage.

Only two years ago, in the presidential poll, it had been Marc Ravalomanana, with jacket casually draped over his shoulder, who had made his opponents seem like fuddy-duddies who were out of touch with the people.

But during the mayoral election, it was campaign of the president's party that suffered from a failure to connect with the voters.

For a population which has become deeply suspicious of the motives of its politicians, Mr Rajoelina offered a fresher, funkier alternative.

Bandwagon

Notwithstanding the flashy campaigning and sharp suits, he is a sharp operator and has surrounded himself with capable advisers.

Supporters of Andry Rajoelina gathered in Antananarivo
Andry Rajoelina appeals to the young in Antananarivo

There was always a question as to whether he and the president - a 59-year-old self-made millionaire and former mayor of Antananarivo - could work together.

The answer would seem to be no: The government has fired Mr Rajoelina as mayor after days of opposition demonstrations and his call for Mr Ravalomanana to resign.

Despite his young age, Mr Rajoelina is constitutionally too young to be president for another six years, he has set himself up as "the" opposition.

The government alleges Mr Rajoelina is being supported by the family of the former President, Didier Ratsiraka, whose reluctance to leave office after his electoral defeat in 2002 sparked massive demonstrations.

The old political class, however, may just have hopped on the bandwagon.

Because for many ordinary Malagasy, Andry Rajoelina is simply the first popular alternative to a president who himself came to power on a wave of public support.

This is no clash of policies; it is a clash of personalities.

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