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Madagascar's young new leader

21 March 09 14:35 GMT

Andry Rajoelina has become the new leader of Madagascar after winning a struggle for power with his rival, former president Marc Ravalomanana.

Despite being six years too young to run for president under the current constitution, he was installed after the constitutional court endorsed a handover of power.

Mr Rajoelina, 34, says he will change the constitution and hold elections within 18 to 24 months.

A former DJ, Mr Rajoelina has risen swiftly, thanks in part to his energy and slick campaigning style.

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).

The baby-faced 34-year-old burst on to Madagascar's political scene in December 2007 to stand for mayor in the capital, Antananarivo - a post from which he was sacked this year.

He had, it seemed, come from nowhere. But for many on the Indian Ocean island, this was part of his appeal.

Mr Rajoelina's message was upbeat and youthful - a call for young Malagasy to seize the day.

His campaign was energetic 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 young businessman - 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.

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

Only two years earlier, 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 the 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 shrewd operator and has surrounded himself with capable advisers.

Tensions came to a head between Mr Rajoelina and Mr Ravalomanana - a 59-year-old self-made millionaire and also a former mayor of Antananarivo - in February 2009.

The government sacked the opposition leader from city hall after days of opposition demonstrations and his call for Mr Ravalomanana, re-elected to a second term in 2006, to resign.

Despite his young age he set himself up as "the" opposition.

The turmoil triggered waves of violent protests, looting and a military mutiny that have left at least 100 people dead since January.

When the army swung decisively behind Mr Rajoelina he emerged victorious, being anointed as Madagascar's new leader in the face of international criticism.

The government had alleged that Mr Rajoelina was 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, Mr 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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