Madagascar's ex-president Rajoelina looks set to return to power
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Former Madagascan president Andry Rajoelina was set to return to power as partial election results on Saturday gave him a clear lead over his rival Marc Ravalomanana, who has alleged the vote count was fraudulent.
With three million ballots counted out of about five million cast, Rajoelina had won 55.1 percent against 44.8 percent for Ravalomanana after Wednesday's run-off election, according to the electoral commission.
Complete results are expected next week, before a period in which they can be legally challenged via the courts.
The two-round election was beset by allegations of fraud from both sides and the result may be contested -- raising the risk of political instability in the Indian Ocean island which has a history of coups and unrest.
"We are still waiting for the full results but I believe that the current results are irreversible. Victory is ours!" Hajo Andrianainarivelo, a senior member of Rajoelina's team, told AFP.
Hanitra Razafimanantso, a lawmaker close to Ravalomanana, said they demanded transparency over how the vote was being counted.
"We have heard that the publication of the results has been made so far on the basis of scanned return sheets. We demand the actual returns because we suspect manipulation," he said.
Ravalomanana is due to issue a statement on Sunday, the campaign team said.
EU election observers said Friday they had not seen evidence of malpractice.
"The Madagascans voted in a peaceful atmosphere in a transparent and well-organised poll," mission head Cristian Preda told reporters.
"Even before the first round, the candidates talked about massive fraud. We did not see it in the field... I hope that calm will come once the results are very clear."
In the same vein, the African Union (AU) congratulated the "two candidates, the entire political class and the Madagascan people who, despite the differences... have shown restraint."
Rajoelina and Ravalomanana, both former presidents and long-time rivals, have been locked in a fiercely personal duel for power, coming first and second in the preliminary election in November.
Ravalomanana told AFP on Thursday at his campaign headquarters in the capital Antananarivo that he suspected "massive fraud".
Sensing victory, Rajoelina's campaign staff have nonetheless responded with their own accusations, saying they had detected "fraud" and "manipulation".
The two candidates were both banned from running in the 2013 election as part of an agreement to end recurring crises that have rocked Madagascar since independence from France in 1960.
Ravalomanana, 69, was first elected president in 2002 but was forced to resign seven years later by violent demonstrations supported by Rajoelina, the then mayor of the capital Antananarivo.
Rajoelina, now 44, was installed by the army and ruled until 2014. He is a former events planner and successful entrepreneur with slick communication skills.
Ravalomanana is a former milkman from a peasant family who went on to build a business empire.
Both candidates have spent lavishly on campaigning, with promises and handouts distributed liberally to voters, who are among the poorest in Africa.
In the first round, Rajoelina won 39 percent compared with 35 percent for Ravalomanana.
Madagascar is well known for its vanilla and precious redwood, yet is one of the world's poorest nations, according to World Bank data, with 76 percent of people living in extreme poverty.
The island, which is also famed for its unique wildlife, is dependent on foreign aid and burdened by political instability.