Madagascar Vote Begins in First Post-Coup Election

Madagascar takes a step toward returning to democracy and ending its international isolation as voters began casting ballots in the first presidential election since a 2009 military-backed coup stalled the economy.

Thirty-three candidates are competing to replace President Andry Rajoelina, a former nightclub disc jockey who’s held power in Antananarivo, the capital, after ousting Marc Ravalomanana almost five years ago. About 7.8 million people are eligible to cast ballots until 5 p.m. in the Indian Ocean island nation, with provisional results expected by Nov. 8.

“The donor community wants the elections to happen so they can turn the page and resume assistance to Madagascar because no one can afford another long period of uncertainty,” Lydie Boka, manager of StrategiCo, a risk-analysis company based in Lille, France, said by phone on Oct. 23. “It’s very important to have elections to show it can uphold the rule of law.”

The coup plunged the country into crisis, stalling economic growth and deepening poverty, with 92 percent of the population now living on $2 a day or less, an increase of as much as 10 percentage points, making Madagascar one of the world’s poorest countries, according to the World Bank.

The country lost eligibility to the U.S. African Growth and Opportunity Act, which enables duty-free access for imports to the U.S. market. That crippled the textile industry, which had been a key driver of foreign investment and jobs, according to the U.S. Congressional Research Service.

Aid Withdrawal

The African Union suspended the country and donors including the European Union and the U.S. withdrew aid, which accounted for 40 percent of Madagascar’s budget. Humanitarian assistance has continued to flow.

“We are voting because the country needs to change,” Patrick Razafindramanana, 50, a road-construction technician, said as he waited in line to vote in Antananarivo. “We are poor, the president has just been profiting.”

One person hiding in a polling station was attacked and killed for reasons believed to be unrelated to the election, Maria Muniz de Urquiza, chief observer for the European Union observer mission in Madagascar, said today in an interview.

Among the top contenders are former Finance Minister Hery Rajaonarimampianina; Jean Louis Robinson, a medical doctor and former cabinet minister under Ravalomanana; Roland Ratsiraka, a nephew of ex-President Didier Ratsiraka; and ex-Foreign Minister Pierrot Rajaonarivelo. Most candidates have similar policy platforms, promising to boost access to electricity, increase salaries and improve security, according to Boka.

Infrastructure Decay

Business in Madagascar has been hindered by mounting infrastructure problems, including the deteriorating state of power supplies and roads, according to the World Bank. The crisis has probably cost the economy $8 billion in lost output.

Rio Tinto Plc, based in London, has a $5 billion titanium mine in the country, Canada’s Sherritt International Corp. has a 40 percent stake in the Ambatovy nickel operation, and Lemur Resources Ltd., a Perth, Australia-based coal-exploration company, runs the Imaloto thermal-coal project.

Even though Rajoelina, Ravalomanana and Ratsiraka are barred from competing, they favor candidates who will allow them to run the country from the sidelines, U.S.-based Strategic Forecasting Inc. said in a note on Sept. 18.

If no candidate secures 50 percent support in the first round, a run-off vote will be held Dec. 20, along with legislative elections. The final outcome of today’s vote will be announced by Nov. 23.

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