Antananarivo - Counting began on Friday in Madagascar's
presidential election, which voters hope will encourage investors and donors to
return to the Indian Ocean island, four years after a coup sent its economy
Madagascar, famed for its wildlife and eyed by foreign
firms for its minerals, has struggled to lure back tourists and court oil and
mining giants since street protests and mutinous troops swept former disc
jockey Andry Rajoelina into power in 2009.
The economy has slumped and poverty has deepened.
"The vote was an opportunity to show how fed up we
had become," said English teacher Lorette Rasoafara as the tallying
started, adding she had voted for a new political face. "If you wanted to
go back in time you voted for the old guard."
It could be more than a week before the election result
is clear. There are no exit polls and while partial results were expected to
trickle in overnight, the electoral commission (Cenit) has until 8 November to
announce a provisional result. There were no initial indications as to how high
EU observers said there had been some problems with voter
registration and voting materials had been missing at some of the 20 000
polling stations. But there had been no signs of voter intimidation, they said.
"The conditions are there for a transparent and
credible vote," said Maria Muniz de Urquiza, head of the EU mission.
Rajoelina said the people's choice should be respected.
He was barred by an electoral court from running for
president, as was the wife of the man he ousted, Marc Ravalomanana.
The election is not expected to produce an outright
winner from among the 33 candidates, meaning a likely runoff in December.
Short of cash
Donors such as the EU, International Monetary Fund (IMF)
and World Bank have frozen funds since the coup.
In an interview with Reuters, Finance Minister Lantoniaina
Rasoloelison said the island would find it hard to meet its spending needs
unless foreign donors resumed support within three months of a new president
Nine out of 10 people in the country of 22 million live
on less than $2 a day.
Election monitors said voting was calm and orderly. A
local chief was killed in a polling station in the island's south, but the
attack was linked to cattle rustling gangs.
In the grounds of a secondary school in Antananarivo,
capital of the former French colony, supporters of rival candidates cheered as
election officials chalked up the results on blackboards and on official
electoral commission documents.
Armed police kept a low profile in the capital, where
some eligible voters said they had been unable to register.
"We don't understand why. It's frustrating. There
are many people like me," said one woman hawking second hand clothes.
Presidential hopefuls have criss-crossed the vast island
off Africa promising tax cuts, better management of the island's oil, nickel,
cobalt and gold and a crackdown on corruption.
Many Malagasy, however, fear the result will be disputed,
keeping investors at bay. Foreign direct investment into Madagascar has slumped
to a projected $460m this year from $1.36bn in 2009, World Bank data shows.
Rajoelina urged candidates to accept the vote's outcome.
"We will take all necessary precautions to avoid
anyone causing trouble," he said after voting, without elaborating.
Rajoelina rose to power after galvanising popular anger
at Ravalomanana's perceived abuses of power.
violent street protests in early 2009 and toppled the self-made millionaire
after dissident soldiers swung behind him.
Diplomats said they were watching the response of the
military, still headed by a general who backed the removal of Ravalomanana and
whose commanders are seen as loyal to Rajoelina.
Rajoelina and Ravalomanana agreed with regional states
not to run for the presidency in order to help restore order, but remain
influential in the voting, analysts say.
Ravalomanana, who has fled to South Africa, has backed
Jean Louis Robinson, a former minister during his presidency.
Publicly, Rajoelina has not endorsed a candidate. But
Hery Rajaonarimampianina, a former finance minister, and Edgard Razafindravahy
are widely seen as his political associates.