ANTANANARIVO Madagascar's voters cast ballots on Friday in a run-off presidential election, but many expect old political rifts to persist and see no quick fix for their battered economy after a coup five years ago drove away investors and donors.
Voters have a choice between a former finance minister backed by outgoing President Andry Rajoelina, the disc jockey-turned-statesman whom the army helped to power in 2009, and an ally of Marc Ravalomanana, the leader who was ousted in the coup.
There is no clear favorite, as the candidates had little public prominence until this election. If neither wins a clear mandate, analysts say it could make for more political wrangling, prolonging the crisis on the poor island of 22 million people, of whom nine out of 10 live on less than $2 a day. The economy contracted 4 percent after the coup.
"I hope that the next elected leaders are more concerned with the lives of ordinary people and are not selfish," said textile worker Avo Ravonirina, 42. "This election is not the end to all our difficulties."
Jean Louis Robinson, an ally of Ravalomanana, won 21 percent of first-round votes, with his biggest support base in the capital, while Hery Rajaonarimampianina, a former finance minister backed by Rajoelina, secured 16 percent.
Voters will have to wait several days for the result, as votes are gathered and counted from across the world's fourth largest island, which lies in the Indian Ocean.
The coup prompted donors to cut vital aid and scared off tourists and investors. Madagascar has rich deposits of nickel, titanium, cobalt, iron, coal and uranium, as well as prospects for oil and gas.
For those sources of cash to return, much will depend on whether the army remains on the sidelines this time and whether the loser is ready to concede defeat.
"I do not expect a miracle in this election," said 31-year-old voter Eric Nantenaina Rakotomanana. "I hope they will accept the results ... It will be difficult to redress the economic situation."
Parliamentary elections are also taking place on Friday, which analysts said could lead to rival political camps controlling opposing offices.
"The challenges for the winner would be to restore a positive image, tell the world Madagascar is a democratic country, open for business and tourist-friendly," said Lydie Boka, manager of consultancy StrategiCo.
As well as drawing back tourists to enjoy the island's unique flora and fauna, the next leader will also have to work on reviving the struggling textile industry.
"I trust the Malagasy people and forces of order to conduct the elections normally and await the results," said Rajoelina, as he cast his ballot.
Ravalomanana and Rajoelina agreed not to stand in the election in a regionally-brokered deal to defuse tensions. A last minute attempt by Rajoelina to run when Ravalomanana's wife stepped into the race led to a court order blocking both.
(Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)