Madagascar votes in first presidential poll since coup
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Polls opened in Madagascar on Friday for the country’s first presidential election since President Andry Rajoelina seized power in a 2009 coup. The country’s economy is floundering and it is hoped the vote will rebuild investor confidence.
Madagascar voted in presidential elections Friday to restore democracy following a 2009 coup as international observers hailed a calm and transparent poll despite isolated incidents of violence.
A senior government official was killed and a polling station torched as voters sought to end a political and economic crisis which has crippled the Indian Ocean island nation since strongman Andry Rajoelina, 39, ousted Marc Ravalomanana four years ago.
An interior ministry source speaking on condition of anonymity said the district chief had been killed while hiding in a polling station in an apparent revenge attack unrelated to the election.
"Already before the elections someone had stolen his cattle and set fire to his house," the ministry official told AFP.
Another person was kidnapped from a voting site in Bezaha, elsewhere in the south, while a polling station was burned down in the northern district of Tsaratanana.
Voting was suspended until the three stations were moved.
Counting was underway after polling stations closed at 5:00 pm (1400 GMT) in Madgascar's first vote since 2009, with three out of 20,000 stations tallied by 11:30 pm.
"Despite some difficulties that one would describe as minor, the election went calmly and I think that the massive turnout of voters shows that the Malagasy people want to move forward," Prime Minister Jean Omer Beriziky told journalists.
Despite the violent incidents, international observers also hailed the vote in this country of 22.3 million people as generally peaceful.
"There was no electoral violence in general, and the election took place in a calm, peaceful and transparent environment," the head of the European Union observer mission, Maria Muniz de Urquiza, told AFP.
"Incidents such as the murder had nothing to do with the electoral process, but with banditry, according to information we have," Muniz de Urquiza told AFP.
"The irregularities or little problems we witnessed such as the late delivery of election materials were resolved fairly quickly," she said.
"So yes, until now we are generally happy."
The US-based Carter Center group of observers also said incidents, like the murder, "seem quite isolated".
"It has generally went by calmly, and logistically, it was better than we feared," Stephane Mondon heading the Carter Center observers told AFP.
Close to 6,000 observers, including 800 foreign monitors, kept an eye on the polls.
Voters were optimistic the election would allow the country to turn the page on its political crisis which has harshly impacted the economy.
The world's fourth-largest island, famed for picture-perfect beaches and lemurs, is a magnet for tourists.
"I think Madagascar will emerge from the crisis in this election," said voter Alain Yves in the capital Antananarivo
Rajoelina 'ready to transfer power'
Around 7.8 million voters were eligible to elect a successor to Rajoelina's interim government.
By mid-morning over 50 percent of voters turned out in the Analamanga region, which encompasses Antananarivo, and between 35 and 45 percent in the provinces, according to figures electoral authorities released on national radio.
In some places the voters roll did not include the names of people who took part in an electoral census last year, while others did not have voter ID cards.
The main political players -- including Rajoelina and the exiled Ravalomanana's wife -- were barred from running.
With 33 candidates on the ballot and no clear favourite, chances of a first-round outright winner looked slim, raising the possibility of a run-off in eight weeks' time.
Despite the number and variety of candidates -- including ex-ministers, a conservationist and a rock singer -- analysts say only about six are serious contenders.
Rajoelina voted in a suburb of the capital Antananarivo, vowing he was "ready to transfer power according to the rules of the game."
"Our challenge is to end the transition in peace and above all to avoid that the country descends into civil war or confrontation."
He has not named a preferred successor, but former finance minister Hery Rajaonarimampianina is perceived as his favourite.
Rajoelina said he would support a candidate in an eventual second round of voting scheduled for December 20, along with legislative polls.
Exiled in South Africa, Ravalomanana's former health minister Robinson Jean Louis also ran in the race.
Independent from France since 1960, poverty is at 92 percent of the population -- the worst level in any country outside war zones, according to the World Bank.