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Sunday, 15 December, 2002, 06:04 GMT
Madagascar poll test for president
Madagascar President Marc Ravalomanana
Mr Ravalomanana is striving for international legitimacy

The people of Madagascar are voting for the first time since the disputed elections almost a year ago that threw the island into political turmoil.

Former President Didier Ratsiraka
Didier Ratsiraka claimed victory after last year's presidential poll
The former President, Didier Ratsiraka, and his rival Marc Ravalomanana both claimed victory in the December 2001 elections with Mr Ravalomanana eventually declared the winner in April.

The election is for candidates to Madagascar's parliament - but it is being seen as a crucial test of popularity and legitimacy for President Ravalomanana.

The international community has been reluctant to endorse the new president until it has seen the strength of his support.

International donors also threatened to withhold aid unless elections were held this month.

Honeymoon continues

Mr Ravalomanana's alliance of parties, known as National Solidarity, has been keen to press ahead, they say, to achieve stability and get Madagascar back on its feet after its most dramatic political crisis.

An overturned truck burns in Madagascar
Violence, strikes and bloodshed followed the contested leadership vote
It is certainly a good time for Mr Ravalomanana.

His own party TIM, or I Love Madagascar, is enjoying a honeymoon period and rival party Arema has almost disintegrated following a boycott by most of its members.

Mr Ravalomanana's presidency was questioned after the elections in December last year, when the government at the time said that neither he nor Didier Ratsiraka had won an outright majority.

The stand-off between the rival presidents launched the country into chaos, violence and devastating poverty.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Iain Bruce
"A year ago elections for president quite literally tore the country in two"
The BBC's Richard Hamilton
"Most people in Madagascar are hoping that this will bring an end to a catastrophic year"
See also:

12 Dec 02 | Africa
30 Nov 02 | From Our Own Correspondent
29 Jul 02 | Business
09 Jul 02 | Country profiles
27 Nov 02 | Country profiles
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