Antananarivo - Madagascar pushed back the date of its
presidential elections for the third time on Thursday, to 25 October, as the
Indian Ocean island struggles to end years of political crisis.
The former French colony has been in chaos since Andry
Rajoelina seized power with military support in 2009, ousting former president
Marc Ravalomanana after opposition protests.
Its tourism industry has suffered badly from the turmoil,
and foreign companies have been wary of committing to investment in its oil,
gold, chrome and nickel reserves.
Rajoelina and Ravalomanana reached a deal with regional
states in January to restore order, based on the condition neither of them
would stand in the election, initially planned for May.
However, Ravalomanana's wife said she would run for the
presidency instead, prompting Rajoelina also to declare his bid.
The election was postponed to July when the electoral
commission said it was unprepared to hold the poll. It was then pushed back to
late August because the decision by Rajoelina and Ravalomanana's wife to stand
led to donors suspending financing for the poll.
At the weekend, the electoral court banned Rajoelina and
Ravalomanana's wife, Lalao, from standing in the poll. The court also struck
former President Didier Ratsiraka from the list of candidates.
The electoral commission said on Thursday that it was
pushing back the election date to 25 October so it could change the list of
candidates to exclude the three.
Beatrice Atallah, president of Madagascar's electoral body,
said in a statement that a possible presidential run-off as well as
parliamentary elections would be held on 20 December.
The court's ruling barring the three candidates was widely
welcomed by Western and regional powers who say the country needs a fresh start
with new candidates.
The African Union, the South African Development Community
(SADC) and key donors such as France and the European Union had applied heavy
pressure to try to prevent the candidacies.
Norbert Ratsirahonana, special adviser to Rajoelina, said
the president would respect the court's decision to block him from the race and
had also accepted the new election date.
Lalao Ravalomanana was not immediately available to comment
on her exclusion from the election.
On Monday, her supporters said they would take to the
streets to protest against the "illegal" court ruling barring her
from running, but this has failed to materialise.
Madagascar's economy shrank 4.6% in 2009, the year of the
coup, after growing at 7.1% the year before. It is forecast to expand by just
2.6% this year, according to the World Bank.