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Last Updated: Friday, 1 December 2006, 15:34 GMT
Q & A: Madagascar election
Fishmongers sit next to their stall along Malagasy opposition leaders electoral posters
Political tensions have divided the country in recent years

Voters on the expansive Indian Ocean island of Madagascar go to the polls on 3 December to elect a new president.

The front-runner in the race is incumbent president Marc Ravalomanana. He is being challenged for the position by 13 contenders.

The election is being held amidst political uncertainty which has plagued Madagascar in recent times.

Opposition protests, claims of media manipulation, and, most recently, an apparent coup attempt by an army general which had the support of eight of the presidential contenders, have all added to social tensions.

What is the background?

Mr Ravalomanana came to power in May 2002 after a six-month political crisis sparked by the refusal of former President Didier Ratsiraka to accept defeat in the December 2001 election.

Mr Ravalomanana won with 51% of the votes, while Mr Ratsiraka came second with 36%.

The impasse left the country split into two governments, two capitals and two armies.

Mr Ravalomanana was finally inaugurated in May 2002 and his rival fled to exile in France with his supporters.

What about the opposition?

Among those who went into exile in 2002 was opposition leader Pierrot Rajaonarivelo, head of the Arema party.

Mr Rajaonarivelo was widely considered to be President Ravalomanana's most formidable challenger when he expressed interest in running for the presidency this time.

But his attempts to return home before the registration deadline were blocked by the authorities.

The national carrier, Air Mauritius, refused to carry him and his application to stand was rejected by the authorities on the grounds he had failed to sign it personally, sparking demonstrations in the capital.

Mr Rajaonarivelo had also been sentenced to 15 years imprisonment in absentia for fraud and the government said it would arrest him the moment he set foot in Madagascar.

Other opposition leaders have contested the 3 December poll date, although they say that according to the constitution, it should be held between 25 December 2006 and 24 January 2007.

The electoral commission however said it set an earlier date to avoid voting during the cyclone season.

The island is heavily exposed to tropical cyclones which bring torrential rains and flooding.

Some opposition parties have also accused the ruling party of manipulating the media.

They claim state TV and radio give too much coverage to the incumbent president.

Who are the main candidates?

Marc Ravalomanana

President Marc Ravalomanana is the candidate for the ruling party, Tiako i Madagasikara (TIM), which translates as "I Love Madagascar".

Born in 1949 of Indo-Malay parentage, the self-made dairy millionaire entered politics in 1999 when he was elected mayor of the capital city, Antananarivo. He is widely credited with improving the city's social services.

Mr Ravalomanana claims he is "not satisfied" with his current achievements. His campaign emphasizes his reforms in the health, agricultural, and roads sectors and what he calls his good governance programme.

Jean Lahiniriko

Jean Lahiniriko was born in 1956 in southern Madagascar and was educated in Cuba.

He was elected Speaker of the National Assembly in 2003 but was sacked in May 2006 for backing Iran's nuclear programme.

Herizo Razafimahaleo

Mr Razafimahaleo is the candidate for the Leader-Fanilo party. He is contesting the presidency for the third time. He came fourth during the 2001 elections.

Mr Razafimahaleo is an economist by training. He has been a former deputy prime minister, minister of foreign affairs and presidential economic adviser.

He has pledged to combat the country's poverty levels and under-development.

Elia Ravelomanantsoa

Elia Ravalomanantsoa is vying for the presidency under the banner of the movement, Madagasikarantsika, which translates as "our Madagascar".

Ms Ravelomanantsoa, 45, is the only female candidate in the contest.

She is a prominent figure on the local human rights scene and is also the president of the Women Contractors of Madagascar (FEM).

Ms Ravelomanantsoa says the country needs a fresh image that is not tainted by past corruption scandals or political abuse.

How does the system work?

The president is the head of state, can serve a maximum of two five-year terms, and is responsible for appointing a prime minister.

Presidential candidates must be at least 40-years-old and resident in the country at the time of elections.

A candidate is declared winner if he or she obtains a clear majority in the first round of voting.

If there is no outright winner, the two top candidates must face each other again within 30 days. The candidate with the most votes in the run-off wins the election.

All resident citizens who are 18 or older can vote.

Will observers be present?

Some 38 local and foreign observer groups have been cleared to monitor the elections.

They include the Electoral Institute of the Southern Africa (EISA) and the Electoral Commissions Forum of the Southern Africa Development Community.

According to the independent newspaper L'Express de Madagascar, there will be more than 14,000 observers in total, including 128 from Africa, Europe and Asia.

What are the main issues?

The world's fourth largest island and its largest vanilla producer, Madagascar is nevertheless one of the world's poorest countries.

The World Bank has estimated that 70% of the population live on less than $1 per day.

Poverty and the competition for agricultural land have put pressure on the island's dwindling forests, home to much of Madagascar's unique wildlife and key to its emerging tourist industry.

Many areas suffer food shortages. Madagascar is to benefit from a G8 commitment to write off the debts of 18 poor countries.

Plans to start coastal strip mining in the south-east have drawn the attention of environmentalists.

BBC Monitoring selects and translates news from radio, television, press, news agencies and the internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages. It is based in Caversham, UK, and has several bureaux abroad.

Country profile: Madagascar
13 Oct 06 |  Country profiles

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