In Summary
  • Attempts by the most recent president, Hery Rajaonarimampianina, to change the large Indian Ocean island's electoral laws backfired.
  • Demonstrators forced Rajaonarimampianina to accept a "consensus" government tasked with organising the election in the poor country with a history of coups and unrest.
  • One presidential contender must win 50 percent of votes cast or a second round will be held on December 19.
  • Madagascar is one of the world's poorest countries, according to World Bank data, with almost four in five people living in grinding poverty.

ANTANANARIVO,

Madagascar votes on Wednesday for a new president in unprecedented polls in which the three front-runners are former heads of state facing-off amid efforts to defuse a political crisis.

Attempts by the most recent president, Hery Rajaonarimampianina, to change the large Indian Ocean island's electoral laws backfired, sparking nearly three months of sometimes violent protests in the capital Antananarivo.

The demonstrators forced Rajaonarimampianina to accept a "consensus" government tasked with organising the election in the poor country with a history of coups and unrest.

Nearly 10 million voters are eligible to cast ballots for one of 36 candidates who, as well as the three front-runners, include two ex-prime ministers, pastors and a rock star. Polling stations open at 0300 GMT and are due to close by 1400 GMT.

FRONT-RUNNERS

One presidential contender must win 50 percent of votes cast or a second round will be held on December 19.

Rajaonarimampianina is competing against two of his predecessors.

Marc Ravalomanana, a milk mogul, ruled from 2002 to 2009 and Andry Rajoelina, a former party organiser nicknamed "the disc jockey", succeeded him and was in power until 2013.

The trio staged massive rallies over the weekend in the capital, each attracting tens of thousands of supporters.

The former French colony has struggled to overcome political divisions after a disputed 2001 election that sparked clashes and a 2009 military-backed coup that ousted Ravalomanana.

Apart from protests earlier this year, Rajaonarimampianina's tenure was mostly peaceful but anger over the past still simmers.

He has promised "a new phase" in Madagascar's development if elected.

"I'm poor. I live hand to mouth, day to day. I don't have anything to eat for tomorrow," said Coledette, a mother-of-four angered by recent increases in the price of rice.

PRE-VOTE POLL

The key battle will be between Rajaonarimampianina and the former presidents Ravalomanana and Rajoelina, according to analysts and the findings of a banned pre-vote poll seen by AFP.

The survey, commissioned by the German Friedrich Ebert Foundation, gave Rajoelina support of 25 percent, Ravalomanana 17 percent and four percent for Rajaonarimampianina.

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