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Old political rivalries overshadow landmark Madagascar poll

FRANCE 24

After years of political turbulence, Madagascar’s voters cast their ballots in a presidential runoff on Friday amid fears that the old political rifts that plunged this island nation into turmoil five years ago would resurface.

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The two rival candidates in the runoff are each backed by Madagascar’s political heavyweights and arch foes, who have themselves been banned from running in the 2013 race.

Jean Louis Robinson, who won 21 percent of the votes in the first round on October 25, is backed by former president, Marc Ravalomanana.

The other candidate, Hery Rajaonarimampianina – who won 16 percent in the first round – is an ally of outgoing President Andry Rajoelina.

Ravalomanana was ousted in a 2009 coup that resulted in the army helping Rajoelina – a disc jockey-turned-statesman – come to power.

The coup plunged the impoverished island nation into an economic and political crisis as foreign donors suspended aid. Under international pressure, both Rajoelina and Ravalomanana have been banned from running for president.

But with each man essentially wielding a proxy on the ballot paper, Madagascans voting on Friday expressed little confidence that the election could set their country back on track.

"I do not expect a miracle in this election," Eric Nantenaina Rakotomanana, a 31-year-old voter, told Reuters. "I hope they [the candidates] will accept the results... It will be difficult to redress the economic situation."

Rakotomanana’s fears were mirrored by several voters lining up to cast their ballots.
"The results will create problems between the two candidates, everybody is going to ask if there has been fraud and I'm not the only one to think like that, I've heard it elsewhere,” said another voter.

Despite the anxieties, the atmosphere across the country on Friday was mostly calm,  according to international election observers in the field.

"From what we've observed up to now is that everything happened as normal," EU observer chief Maria Muniz de Urquiza told the AFP. "We haven't received negative reports from our observers deployed across the country."

As polls closed on Friday evening, the country’s top police official said voting in the second round was more peaceful than in October's first round.

"In the first round, there were a few incidents in rural areas, but we've heard nothing during the second round," national paramilitary police commander Richard Ravalomanana told the AFP.

‘This is a turning point’

Voters' pessimism was not, however, reflected by the main candidates as they cast their ballots on Friday.

"This is a turning point in the history of Madagascar," Robinson told AFP after casting his vote.

His opponent, Rajaonarimampianina, a former finance minister under Rajoelina, expressed hopes that Friday election would enable an economic recovery.

"I am still a new force and I've added a bit of a unifying force to the second round," he said before the vote.

Rajaonarimampianina also urged donors and investors to return to the island. "I've told them before and I say it again, I'm going to put in place the rule of law and good governance," said the 55-year-old businessman-politician.

Speaking to reporters after casting his vote, outgoing president Rajoelina said, "I trust the Malagasy people and forces to conduct the elections normally and await the results."

Parliamentary elections raise fears of rival camps

Madagascar also held parliamentary elections on Friday amid fears that results could lead to rival political camps within the assembly.

More than 2,000 candidates contested the 119 parliamentary seats – many of them as independents. Madagascar has an estimated 7.5 million registered voters.

Initial results are expected over the weekend. The election commission is expected to announce the official results by January 7, which must be confirmed by the election commission by February 18.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and REUTERS)

 

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