Madagascar ex-presidents to compete in second round vote, incumbent out

ANTANANARIVO (Reuters) - An ex-president of Madagascar and the man who overthrew him in a 2009 coup will compete to become the island state’s next leader in a run-off election in December after the two came top in a first-round vote that eliminated the incumbent.

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Former president Marc Ravalomanana garnered 35.35 percent of the vote in the first round on Nov. 7, behind his successor, Andry Rajoelina, who got 39.23 percent, the High Constitutional Court ruled on Wednesday.

Incumbent President Hery Rajaonarimampianina drew just 8.82 percent, the court said, and will not take part in the second round, due on Dec. 19. The court rejected his request for the vote to be canceled and Rajoelina’s votes invalidated, saying there was insufficient evidence of widespread irregularities.

Rajoelina told reporters after the court’s announcement of results: “I appeal to all citizens, to those who did not vote, it is not too late. The time to save Madagascar has come. Vote in the next election. I reach out to those who are not yet convinced. Take my hand.”

Madagascar is hoping for its second peaceful election since the upheaval of 2009 when Ravalomanana was toppled by protests led by Rajoelina in what the African Union and other international organizations said was a coup.

Rajoelina’s takeover prompted an exodus of foreign investors from Madagascar, which is one of the world’s poorest countries despite reserves of nickel, cobalt, gold, uranium and other minerals. It is also the world’s biggest producer of vanilla.

Madagascar, a sprawling island off the coast of southeastern Africa, held its last elections in 2013.

The constitutional court also reported a turnout of 53.95 percent among registered voters.

“I appeal to those who did not come to vote. You have an electoral card, come and vote. The country’s future for the next five years is at stake,” said Hanitra Razafimanantsoa, vice-president of the National Assembly and a member of Ravalomanana’s TIM party.

Though relative political stability since the 2013 election has enabled the economy to rebound, about 80 percent of the population of 25 million lives on less than $2 per day.

Madagascar was rocked by a fresh crisis in April sparked by a legal amendment by Rajaonarimampianina’s government that would have prevented Ravalomanana from standing for office. Rajaonarimampianina later removed that provision.

Reporting by Lovasoa Rabary; Writing by George Obulutsa; Editing by Mark Heinrich