Madagascar’s first presidential election since a military-backed coup was free and fair despite a few irregularities, European Union (EU) and Southern African observers say.
The verdict on the Indian Ocean island’s elections came on Sunday, two days after the poll.
The announcements were a boost for Madagascar which needs a credible vote to rebuild investors’ confidence and win back aid suspended after dissident troops propelled Andry Rajoelina into power in 2009.
But foreign envoys warned there was still time for an upset. Full results could take as long as a week to emerge and the two front-runners both anticipate a second-round runoff, prolonging the uncertainty.
“This election has been free, transparent and credible,” Maria Muniz de Urquiza, head of the EU observer mission, said.
The Southern African Development Community (SADC), which suspended Madagascar as a member after Rajoelina’s power grab, said the vote had “reflected the will of Malagasy people”.
By mid-day, the electoral commission (CENIT) had released results from just 1,019 of the 20,001 voting stations dotted across the world’s fourth-largest island that is famed for its lemurs and eyed by foreign firms for its oil, nickel, cobalt.
Two of the most fancied candidates maintained their early leads. Jean Louis Robinson – backed by the president deposed in 2009, Marc Ravalomanana – is holding steady with about 27 percent of the vote.
His nearest rival, Hery Rajaonarimampianina, a former finance minister under Rajoelina, is polling consistently at just under 16 percent.
Friday’s vote was peaceful, but the EU observer mission said the lack of a cap on campaign spending had led to “flagrant inequalities” between candidates. It also noted that a “not negligible percentage” of voters were left off the voter list.
These shortcomings had not prevented the vote running smoothly, said de Urquiza.
Diplomats said they were watching the military, parts of which they say remain opposed to Ravalomanana’s return from exile – a scenario widely expected if Robinson wins the vote.
“We’ve made a big step forward but all the options are open,” said one European diplomat, who asked not to be named.