ANTANANARIVO The candidate backed by Madagascar's coup-leader President Andry Rajoelina held on Wednesday an apparently unassailable lead in the island's run-off vote, which his rival's camp has said was rigged.
Former Finance Minister Hery Rajaonarimampianina has won more than 53 percent of the December 20 vote with ballots counted in more than 99 percent of polling stations, provisional results showed.
The election, the first since former disc jockey Rajoelina ousted then President Marc Ravalomanana in 2009 with the help of renegade troops, is meant to end a crisis that has driven out investors, cut aid flows and sharply slowed the economy.
But a disputed result could prolong the malaise on the politically volatile Indian Ocean island and delay restoring the external budget support needed to drive public spending higher and boost anemic growth.
Jean Louis Robinson, who is backed by exiled Ravalomanana and has 46 percent of votes, this week demanded a recount.
Saraha Georget Rabeharisoa, who ran in the first round before supporting Robinson in the run-off said, "There has been massive fraud. We have proof from across Madagascar."
Both Rajaonarimampianina and Robinson claimed victory soon after the vote, reviving painful memories for many Malagasy of contested polls that have led to violence in the past.
The two men are respectively seen as puppets of Rajoelina and Ravalomanana, whose bitter rivalry has persisted through the five-year crisis. Both were barred from running this time.
"(The Ravalomanana movement) has to accept the ballot result," said Donne Andriatsimaniraka, an electronics store owner. "Otherwise it will leave the country in a dangerous situation which could lead to a new, deeper crisis."
But others on the hilly capital's crumbling streets, where crime levels have jumped since Rajoelina's power grab, worry that unresolved complaints will lead to more instability.
"We cannot accept entering a new republic with suspicions of fraud lingering," said civil servant Jeannot Robiarivelo.
The electoral commission (CENIT) has said it expects to announce full provisional results by January 3. An electoral court then has to validate the result.
Robinson's camp has filed nearly 300 separate complaints to the court, his campaign team said.
Turnout among Madagascar's 7.9 million registered voters was just over 50 percent, the CENIT said.
Educated in Canada, 55-year-old Rajaonarimampianina pitched himself as best-placed to marshal a recovery of Madagascar's economy, which is struggling to regain foreign interest in its oil, nickel, chrome, iron ore and coal deposits.
(Writing by Richard Lough; Editing by Louise Ireland)