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Run-off likely as Madagascar vote results trickle in


Transitional President Andry Rajoelina's preferred candidate was leading his election rival, backed by deposed Madagascan president Marc Ravalomanana, as results trickled in slowly on Saturday with the vote likely headed for a run-off.


Two candidates supported by Madagascar strongman Andry Rajoelina and the island's ousted former leader took the early lead Saturday as presidential election results trickled in and suggested a possible run-off.

More than 24 hours after polls closed in the first post-coup vote to restore democracy, results published in the evening put deposed ex-president Marc Ravalomanana's candidate Robinson Jean Louis ahead of Hery Rajaonarimampianina, a former finance minister under Rajoelina.

Only 510 polling stations out of 20,001 -- accounting for under three percent of the country's 7.8 million registered voters -- had released their results by late Saturday, but commentators said the two rival candidates were likely to face off in a second round of voting.

"We already know more or less who it will be," said Cenit election commission president Beatrice Atallah, pointing at a computer screen which showed the two frontrunners far ahead of the 31 other candidates.

The early results showed Jean Louis claiming some 35 percent of the vote, followed by Rajaonarimampianina at around 15 percent.

Final results will only be available in a week, according to Cenit.

A new democratic government is crucial for the island to access foreign aid that was frozen after Rajoelina seized power in 2009 and Ravalomanana fled to South Africa.

Both politicians were barred from running in the polls after intense international pressure. But on Saturday their camps already began campaigning for the expected run-off, likely to be held in December.

'I never thought these elections would take place'

Jean Louis, Ravalomanana's proxy candidate, met his supporters in the capital Antananarivo at the ruins of a supermarket that once belonged to the ousted president but was destroyed when he was deposed.

"I believe in Doctor Jean Louis. He will keep his promises," Ravalomanana told the supporters by phone from Johannesburg.

"The battle isn't over till daddy's back home," he added.

"We will provide what the Malagasy people expect: security, food, children going back to school. But most importantly the confidence of donors and foreign countries."

Jean Louis told journalists he had "a plan" to improve his country's living conditions.

"We must break free from this crisis and poverty," he said, pointing at the high growth levels the Indian Ocean island enjoyed under Ravalomanana's tenure.

Jean Louis also said that if elected, he might appoint the ex-leader or his wife Lalao Ravalomanana as prime minister.

Meanwhile, Rajaonarimampianina, who is not formally endorsed by interim leader Rajoelina but is widely perceived to be his favourite, vowed to work to reverse his country's economic woes.

"I am here to end this crisis, all these crises," he told AFP.

"I think we should end it, and tackle new economic and enduring social development."

International observers including the United Nations said the polls went smoothly, despite isolated incidents of violence, with fewer organisational problems than expected.

But as delays in reporting led to results only being announced in dribs and drabs, impatient residents began voicing concerns over vote-rigging.

"It is worrying, this slowness," said Mialy Rakatoarizafy, a jeweller in the capital.

"The more time they take, the greater the risk of fraud," she said.

But Cenit shrugged off those concerns.

"I don't know how fraud could happen," said its president Atallah, adding that representatives of candidates in every region received copies of verified vote results.

A Western election observer said he was "not worried".

"It's to be expected that there's nothing on the day after the polls," he said. "If it takes longer than a week, then yes, I'd be concerned."

But political scientist Sahondra Rabenarivo said at this rate, final results would only be available in 83 days.

"I understand that they need to verify the votes, but first they need to announce preliminary results," she said.



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