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Monday, 17 December, 2001, 16:15 GMT
Madagascar raises economic hopes
Map of Madagascar
The presidential candidates competing for votes in Madagascar's election on Sunday sought to woo the country's poor with promises of economic riches to come.

In one of the world's poorest countries, the poor vote is hugely important; and promises of wealth are hugely potent.

Many in Madagascar's urban areas have already seen their lot improve - finding jobs in a growing textile sector - and the economy is set to continue growing, an International Monetary Fund (IMF) report found last week.

However, for the 80% of Madagascar's population that live in the countryside, economists and politicians agree that more needs to be done to pull them out of poverty.

Election spend

The elections have been dominated by how much money the candidates have to spend on t-shirts, caps and helicopter transport to the most remote parts of the island.

While the current President Didier Ratsiraka has embraced economic liberalisation, it appears clear that many have yet to feel the benefits of it.

He has been very coy about his economic policies

The BBC's Jonathan Donovan
Presidential challenger Marc Ravalomanana has sought to convince voters that his experience as a self-made businessman equips him to pull the country out of poverty.

However, "he has been very coy about his economic policies. He talks about agro industry, giving people cattle," the BBC's Jonathan Donovan told the World Business Report.

"In terms of detailed economic policies, there is a large gap there."

Urban gains, rural woes

Last week, the IMF praised what progress has been made - a falling budget deficit, tax collection reforms, a growing economy - but said that more needed to be done to pull the country out of poverty.

The economy grew by 6.7% this year, having grown by 4.8% last year.

The government has pushed through the privatisation of the country's telecoms company and is under pressure from the IMF to push ahead with the sales of cotton and sugar companies.

Free trade zones - now a decade old - provide work for some 100,000 people and have largely proved to be a magnet for textiles companies.

The textiles industry is now the country's biggest foreign exchange earner.

Its exports rose in part thanks to the US African Growth and Opportunity Act.

The BBC's Jonathan Donovan
"You need a lot of money to win an election here in Madagascar"
See also:

17 Aug 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Madagascar
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