Madagascar began Wednesday to vote for the second round of a presidential election with the strong taste of personal accounts between two of its former heads of state, Marc Ravalomanana and Andry Rajoelina, determined to regain power.
As early as 6:00 am (3:00 GMT), the first of some 10 million registered voters completed their civic duty in the capital Antananarivo.
“My choice is already made but I keep it for myself,” AFP told a 45-year-old housewife, Monique Norosoa, slipping her ballot into the urn in the Ampadrana district.
The 25,000 or so polling stations in the country must remain open until 17:00 local time (14:00 GMT).
The vote is taking place in a worried climate. The fierce rivalry between the two finalists fears serious post-election tensions in a country accustomed to political crises since its independence in 1960.
In the second televised debate between two rounds on Sunday, Marc Ravalomanana warned against the risk of fraud.
“There are fake ID cards and fake voter cards that are circulating right now,” he said, “if the Interior Ministry does not do anything, there will be serious problems “.
“It is not right if, from now on, we start to contest the results of an election that has not yet taken place,” replied Andry Rajoelina, sure of him.
– Grudges –
In the first round of November 7, Rajoelina, a former 44-year-old disc jockey, took a slight advantage by winning 39.23% of the vote. A rich dairy group boss, Ravalomanana, 69, followed him closely with 35.35% of the vote.
Outgoing President Hery Rajaonarimampianina was warmly thanked with 8.82% of the vote.
Stripped of their competitors, the two men have left these last weeks free to their personal grudges, numerous.
Elected president of the state in 2002, Ravalomanana was forced to resign seven years later by a wave of violent protests waged by Rajoelina. Mayor of the capital Antananarivo, the latter was then installed by the army at the head of the country.
The two rivals had been deprived of candidacy for the 2013 election, as part of an agreement to end the crisis validated by the international community.
At length speech, Marc Ravalomanana denounced the “coup d’etat” led by his successor and extolled his own experience. “I do not work for me or to enrich myself,” he said, “I will do everything to make Madagascar a developed country.”
Andry Rajoelina fought back by calling his opponent “old man” and advising him to “retire to milk his cows”. “I will be a president of the common people who protect the poor,” he said.
In recent days, the two contenders have crisscrossed the country in their helicopters to consolidate their strongholds and rallying the abstainers, by far the first party of the Big Island with 45.7% in the first round.
– “Propaganda” –
Their personal duel to the extreme largely overshadowed the country’s fundamental problems, one of the poorest on the African continent and the only one spared by the war to have been impoverished since independence from France in 1960.
Cracking lack of infrastructure, corruption, insecurity, poverty, Madagascar and its 25 million inhabitants accumulate all the handicaps. Victim of global warming, its southern tip has suffered for years from a drought that is jeopardizing its population.
“There was no real debate about the solutions to these problems, just propaganda,” says Hony Radaert, of the Collectif des citoyens, “I doubt that neither of the two (candidates) has learned the lessons failures of the past “.
“We have witnessed the shock of two egos who are not lost,” dreads Sahonda Rabenarivo, of the Observatory of Politics Malagasy (Sefafi). “They could go to the break in case of defeat, especially if the results are very tight.”
Former Minister of Education and unfortunate candidate in the first round, the academic Paul Rabary sums up the issues of the poll.
“For Marc Ravalomanana, it’s a matter of life and death, his (agri-food) group can not survive if he does not take over,” he says. “As for Andry Rajoelina, his personal story is dirty with the coup, he must win to wash his honor.”
Worried, the influential conference of Catholic bishops of Madagascar on Monday urged both sides to “humbly welcome the true choice of the people”.
The first significant results must be published by the Electoral Commission (Ceni) after Christmas.