By Alain Iloniaina and Richard Lough
ANTANANARIVO (Reuters) - Results dribbled in from Madagascar's presidential election on Saturday but two front-runners said a second round looked likely in a vote many hope will restore investor confidence in an economy left paralyzed by a coup four years ago.
A credible poll on the Indian Ocean island would be an important step towards luring back tourists as well as oil and mining companies who were scared off when mutinous troops swept former disc jockey Andry Rajoelina to power in 2009.
About 24 hours after voting ended, the electoral commission (CENIT) had released provisional results from a mere 366 out of 20,001 polling stations, underlining the huge logistical task it faces on one of the world's largest islands.
"Things will start moving faster," said Jean Victor Rasolonjatovo, executive secretary of the CENIT, which has until November 8 to release complete provisional results.
The numbers showed early leads for two of the most fancied candidates, Jean Louis Robinson - who is backed the president deposed in 2009, Marc Ravalomanana - and Hery Rajaonarimampianina, a former finance minister under Rajoelina.
But it was too early to draw any concrete trends from the partial results, which accounted for under 3 percent of the 7.8 million registered voters on the island, famed for its lemurs and targeted by foreign firms for its oil, nickel and cobalt.
Turnout from the first several hundred polling stations was 56 percent.
Following Rajoelina's power grab, donors suspended budget support, the economy stalled and poverty deepened. The real test to ending the political turmoil will be if the election results are challenged by any of the 33 presidential candidates.
"END OF THE CRISIS"
Robinson told Reuters he felt sure of progressing to a runoff slated for December and said a first round win was not impossible, though his campaign team appeared to play down the likelihood of that.
"The Malagasy people know that this is the end of the crisis," Robinson later told several thousand chanting supporters in Antananarivo, capital of the former French colony.
Ravalomanana told the crowd by telephone from South Africa, where he fled after the coup, that the fight was not over until "daddy returns".
The mood in Rajaonarimampianina's camp, Robinson's nearest rival in the early count, was equally bullish.
"We're confident of going through to a second round," said his campaign manager, Joabarison Randrianarivony.
Diplomats said they would watch the response of the military, still headed by a general who backed Ravalomanana's ouster and whose top commanders are seen as loyal to Rajoelina.
It could be more than a week before the election result is clear. Some polling stations were so remote it could take two or three days to motorbike the results to the nearest point where they can be electronically relayed to the CENIT in the capital.
Helicopters were being drafted in to collect ballot papers from the most far-flung voting centers, one electoral official familiar with the logistics told Reuters.
International election observers said the vote was generally calm with no sign of voter intimidation, though numerous eligible voters complained they had been unable to vote after apparent glitches in the registration process.
(Editing by Gareth Jones)
- Politics & Government
- Andry Rajoelina
- Marc Ravalomanana