Presidential election takes place in Madagascar after weeks of unrest

A man casts his vote in the presidential election in Antananarivo (Alexander Joe/AP)
A man casts his vote in the presidential election in Antananarivo (Alexander Joe/AP) A man casts his vote in the presidential election in Antananarivo (Alexander Joe/AP)

People in Madagascar have trickled to polling stations as voting opened in a presidential election boycotted by the majority of candidates following weeks of unrest and court battles.

In the capital of Antananarivo, where a night-time curfew ended two hours before voting started, many people said they were heeding calls by a collective of 10 candidates to stay away from polling stations.

Opposition leaders and civil society groups had called for a postponement of the election.

The situation was calm in the capital despite weeks of unrest but tension was palpable at some polling stations where some people refused to talk to journalists.

Madagascar Elections
Madagascar Elections People wait for a polling station to open in Antananarivo (Alexander Joe/AP)

Voters’ choices were limited to three men after 10 candidates announced they were pulling out of the election this week, alleging that conditions for a legitimate and fair vote have not been met.

Andry Rajoelina is seeking re-election for a second term and is riding on a record of being the “Builder President” for infrastructure projects that some say have turned into white elephants.

A violent crackdown on protests by security forces ahead of the election has tainted his democratic credentials while a struggling economy, lack of social services and widespread poverty weigh down his popularity.

The 49-year-old former DJ’s biggest challenge comes from a former ally-turned-foe, Siteny Randrianasoloniaiko.

Madagascar Elections
Madagascar Elections President Andry Rajoelina addresses supporters at an election rally (Alexander Joe/AP)

Mr Randrianasoloniaiko is a wealthy 51-year-old businessman who is also the deputy for Tulear city under Mr Rajoelina’s IRD party in the island’s far south. He distanced himself from Mr Rajoelina ahead of the election.

A third candidate is Sendrison Daniela Raderanirina, a relatively unknown 62-year-old who has lived mainly in France to pursue a career in information technology.

Mr Rajoelina says he is confident, declaring that “no one can take victory away from me”.

Opposition figures boycotting the election, including two former presidents, say he should have been stripped of his Malagasy nationality and disqualified because he obtained French citizenship in 2014.

Mr Rajoelina said he took up dual citizenship to secure his children’s education in former coloniser France. The country’s highest court ruled in his favour.

They also allege that the national electoral commission and judiciary lack independence.

Most of Madagascar’s 30 million people live in poverty in a country whose economy is anchored in agriculture and tourism and but is largely dependent on foreign aid.