Q&A: Madagascar presidential election

Residents of Madagascar
Image caption Madagascar is one of the poorest countries in the world

Voters on the Indian Ocean island of Madagascar go to the polls on 25 October to elect a president in the first election since the military-backed coup of 2009.

The election - which has been postponed three times this year after months of wrangling - is the first to take place since current leader Andry Rajoelina ousted his predecessor Marc Ravalomanana four years ago.

The 2009 coup led to a devastating economic crisis in Madagascar after sanctions were imposed on the country as a whole, as well as several individuals involved in the takeover, including Mr Rajoelina. As a result, the economy has been in a state of paralysis and foreign aid, which once accounted for almost half the country's budget, has been suspended.

Why were the elections postponed repeatedly?

Image caption Lalao Ravalomanana (L), Andry Rajoelina (C), and Didier Ratsiraka (R) are barred from standing

After seizing power, Mr Rajoelina announced that there would be a new constitution and elections within 24 months. In May 2009 it was agreed that all former presidents would be allowed to stand in the election. However, these failed to take place in 2009 or 2010.

In January this year Mr Rajoelina and Mr Ravalomanana both agreed not to stand in the polls, in line with a plan by the Southern African Development Community (SADC), a regional bloc that Madagascar belongs to.

The first round of this election was set to take place in July 2013 but was pushed back to August because Mr Ravalomanana's wife and former first lady, Lalao - and then Mr Rajoelina himself - decided to run, prompting donors to suspend financing for the poll.

Mr Rajoelina and Lalao Ravalomanana were then barred from standing and the electoral court also struck former President Didier Ratsiraka from the list of candidates after the three refused to withdraw. The African Union had said it would not recognize the results if any of the three were declared the winner. The electoral commission then set the elections for 25 October so that it could change the list of candidates to exclude the three.

Proxy candidates are running for Mr Rajoelina and Mr Ravalomanana, who lives in exile in South Africa. However, he still commands a lot of support in the country.

What state is the country in?

According to World Bank statistics, more than 92% of Madagascar's population of some 21 million live on less than $2 a day. There are 47.4 deaths for every 1,000 live births and the average lifespan is 65 for men and 69 for women.

Who are the main candidates?

Image caption Richard Jean-Louis Robinson is seen as Mr Ravalomanana's preferred candidate

Thirty-three candidates are taking part. The front-runners are:

  • Hery Martial Rakotoarimanana Rajaonarimampianina, seen as Mr Rajoelina's preferred candidate although the interim president has said he is not backing anyone. A former finance minister in the transitional government, he says he aims to help the unemployed, build infrastructure to improve agriculture, reform the education system and make Madagascar a strong democracy.
  • Richard Jean-Louis Robinson who is standing for the Avana [Rainbow] party and is being backed by Mr Ravalomanana, under whom he served as health minister. Mr Robinson says his electoral programme will draw heavily on a new version of Mr Ravalomanana's Madagascar Action Plan (MAP) to help rebuild society and also rejuvenate the ailing tourism industry.

Is there a free media?

Most of Madagascar's newspapers and broadcast media are owned by politicians but only two of the presidential candidates actually own newspapers or broadcast houses themselves. According to Freedom House, media in the country is "partly free".

In the final run-up to the polls, the electoral commission and state broadcaster ORTM (Office de la Radio et de la Television Malgache) have allocated 15 minutes of free paid-for airtime for each candidate every day.

Who is managing the elections?

The Independent National Electoral Commission of the Transition (Cenit) - an independent electoral body funded by the United Nations - is in charge of the polls.

Presidential candidates must be Malagasy citizens and have lived in Madagascar for at least six months before applying to stand, a condition that Mr Ratsarika and Lalao Ravalomanana both failed to meet.

No firm date has been set to announce the results but if no candidate receives more than 50% of the votes cast, a second round will be held on 20 December, along with the parliamentary elections.

Cenit says there are 7,697,382 registered voters and 20,115 polling stations in Madagascar, a country the size of France with a scattered population. Some media reported that distribution of voting cards did not begin until 10 October and some registered voters in the capital, Antananarivo, had still not received them by 16 October.

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