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Monday, 17 December, 2001, 09:19 GMT
Long wait for verdict in Madagascar
Man casting a ballot in Madagascar
The recent campaign has renewed interest in politics
Early results following Sunday's presidential election in Madagascar suggest that the current head of state, Didier Ratsiraka, has failed to win a majority of votes in the capital, Antananarivo, and several other towns.

The president, who is seeking a fifth term in office, is facing a strong challenge from the capital's mayor, Marc Ravalomanana, who is reported to have taken three-quarters of the votes cast in his home area.

However, correspondents say that President Ratsiraka is likely to do better in rural areas and it will not be clear for several weeks who has won most votes nationally.

Mr Ravalomanana heads the country's biggest food company, and is backed by the powerful Madagascar Council of Christian Churches.

His impressive showing in the capital makes it more likely there will be a second round of voting before an outright winner can be declared.

Admiral Ratsiraka has ruled virtually non-stop since 1975 with the exception of a three-year period in the early 1990s.

Instability warning

State radio reported a high turnout compared to the 1996 election, and the government said the electoral process was proceeding smoothly.

President Didier Ratsiraka
President Ratsiraka is running for a fifth and final term
Admiral Ratsiraka told reporters instability was inevitable if he was not re-elected.

Any other candidate would be forced to dissolve the government or face a deadlock with his ruling Arema party, he said.

And that, he added, would delay the fight against poverty.

But Mr Ravalomanana said his presidency would bring "access to development" for Madagascar.

Rags to riches

In the 1970s and 80s, Mr Ratsiraka severed ties with the West as part of an attempt to bring socialism to Madagascar.

After attempting to bring socialism to Madagascar in the 1970s and 1980s, Mr Ratsiraka is now a staunch supporter of economic liberalism, and has made stability and continuity the watchwords for his current election campaign.

Marc Ravalomanana (Pic courtesy DMD/Midi)
Mr Ravalomanana is a political newcomer
For his part, Marc Ravalomanana has been capturing hearts with his lavish economic promises to rebuild the economy.

From a family of modest means, the 52-year-old is currently the owner of the largest non-foreign owned company in Madagascar and, for many of his supporters, he is the epitome of the rags to riches story.

Since becoming mayor in 1998, he has earned himself a reputation as something of a maverick.

Recent criticism surrounding Mr Ravalomanana's non-payment of taxes has cast a shadow over his self-styled image of a by-the-book businessman who will bring economic progress to the island.

An ultra-strict Protestant, many fear that if he is successful in Sunday's elections he will rule with an iron fist.

Back-biting

The last two weeks' election campaigning has tended to focus on the personalities and the private lives of the individual candidates, often leading to a climate of political back-biting.

The four outsiders complain that Didier Ratsiraka and Marc Ravalomanana enjoy greater access to the capital and argue that campaigning has become a contest of gift-giving, devoid of political significance.

Madagascar's enormous size together with its weak infrastructure, especially its lack of decent roads, mean many of the ballot boxes will have to be transported long distances by foot before being counted.

Consequently, the final result is only expected to be known in around a month's time.

See also:

17 Dec 01 | Business
Madagascar raises economic hopes
04 Apr 00 | Africa
Cyclone flattens Madagascar town
17 Aug 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Madagascar
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