Madagascar ‘ready’ for elections

There's no doubt that former Madagascar President Marc Ravalomanana and Andry Rajoelina, who threw him out four years ago, have unfinished business.

But that will have to wait.

Friday's presidential election on the island provides the arena for a battle by proxy.

From his exile in South Africa, Ravalomanana, the man who went from yoghurt magnate to national leader to asylum seeker, has endorsed one of the 33 candidates, namely Jean Louis Robinson who served as his Health Minister.

Here in the capital Antananarivo, former disc jockey and youthful interim President Rajoelina initially gave his stamp of approval to no fewer than three of the runners.

However, it is former Finance Ninister Hery Rajaonarimampianina who has his final blessing.

Only six of the 33 have a realistic chance of winning.

All money is on there not being an outright winner when results are announced early next month.

So the front runners will probably be back for the run-off to coincide with the parliamentary elections scheduled for December 20.

Logistical problems encountered now will be repeated in spades because the second round on this infrastructure-poor island the size of France will be contested at the height of the rainy season.

Madagascar is as ready now for elections as it was when they were delayed in May and September 2011, May and November last year and May, July and August this year.

But ready is a word used more lightly here.

Candidates say a disturbingly high number of their supporters do not have voter's cards.

The independent electoral authority maintains that 90 percent of the cards have been produced.

They will be available on polling day for voters who do not have them.

Anyone on the voters' roll will be able to cast a ballot on production of a national identity card.

The authorities have certainly learned lessons since the 2006 poll won by Ravalomanana.

They have set up the independent electoral commission and printed numbered ballot papers to prevent fraud.

Candidates wonder why with 7,8 million registered voters 11 million ballot papers were printed.

It is not the mechanics of the election causing the most concern here.

The past four years have been marked by political instability.

At Nosy Be on the north-west of the island, three men were lynched earlier this month. They included a Frenchman and an Italian. All three killed by the mob were suspected of trafficking body parts from a murdered eight-year old boy.

The incident, which included the burning of the three victims' bodies, was linked to pre-election violence.

Long-term observers of the voting process are not convinced.

They say the campaign has been peaceful as one would expect of the easy-going Malagasy people.

Speaking to locals, many would have preferred to see a contest of all would-be candidates including Ravalomanana and Rajoelina to ascertain who really is the most popular politician.

They resent the intervention by the Africans and French former colonialists who have a set idea on who may not be in the race.

Whatever the outcome, it is vital the loser accepts defeat in free and fair elections.

Madagascar's return to constitutional normality will bring back foreign development aid and tourists that will lift this depressed country off its knees.

For Africa, a successful home grown conclusion to Madagascar's nightmare will be a tonic for those pushing African solutions to African problems.

_Jean-Jacques Cornish is EWN's Africa correspondent. __Follow him on Twitter. _