By Lovasoa Rabary
ANTANANARIVO (Reuters) – Vote counting was underway in Madagascar on Thursday after a presidential election, with former leader Andry Rajoelina commanding a slim lead in early results from a small number of polling stations.
Preliminary results released by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) from about 100 polling stations out of more than 24,000 showed Rajoelina ahead of his two main rivals with 44.4 percent of the vote.
The poll pits Rajoelina against incumbent President Hery Rajaonarimampianina who is seeking a second term in office and another former leader Marc Ravalomanana. The contest has drawn a total of 36 candidates.
Rajaonarimampianina said his camp had identified several anomalies, including the use of an invalid voter register, delays in opening of the polls in some places, intimidation and ballot-stuffing.
“This election included a significant number of fraudulent acts and behaviours, which are currently being identified and will be forwarded to the CENI (electoral commission),” he said.
His party would continue to monitor the process and rely on institutions like CENI to stop any attempted manipulation of the vote, he said.
“We will not let people lose their vote,” said Rajaonarimampianina.
Voters are eager to get a winner who will tackle the impoverished Indian Ocean island’s many problems including unemployment and corruption.
Ernest Razafindraibe, an electoral official, told Reuters voter turnout was 45 percent.
“Even if the results are not yet official, the trend of victory of the Malagasy people and Madagascar is emerging,” Rajoelina told his supporters late Wednesday at his campaign headquarters in the capital.
Ravalomanana, too promised victory to his supporters, “I encourage you to be calm and to be careful, not to take into account some misleading figures. ..we will win, do not worry.”
Because of the unusual high number of contestants, few expect an outright winner and the poll is widely expected to go into a second round. This would involve only the two top candidates and would be held on Dec. 19.
On Wednesday the head of the European Union’s observer mission, Cristian Preda, said his team deployed across the country had not yet detected any anomalies in the polls, which he said were key for the restoration of Madagascar’s democratic credentials.
Observers and Malagasy are hoping for the second peaceful election since the upheaval of 2009, when Ravalomanana was forced out of office by protests led by Rajoelina in what international organisations such as the African Union said was a coup.
(writing by Elias Biryabarema and Duncan Miriri, Editing by William Maclean)