Madagascans yesterday voted in a runoff election between two rivals who have waited years to come face-to-face in a fiercely personal battle for power.
The clash between former Madagascan presidents Marc Ravalomanana and Andry Rajoelina could revive instability in the impoverished country if the result is rejected by the losing candidate or fraud allegations are widespread, analysts say.
The two contenders came a close first and second in November’s preliminary vote, far ahead of their competitors.
Ravalomanana and Rajoelina were both banned from running in the 2013 vote as part of an agreement to end recurring crises that have rocked Madagascar since independence from France in 1960.
“My choice is already made, but I keep it to myself,” 45-year-old housewife Monique Norosoa said as she voted in the capital Antananarivo.
In the first round, Rajoelina won 39 percent of the vote compared with 35 percent for Ravalomanana. Both camps alleged they were victims of fraud and cheating.
Ravalomanana, 69, was elected as president in 2002, but was forced to resign seven years later by violent demonstrations supported by Rajoelina, who was then-mayor of the capital Antananarivo. Rajoelina, 44, was installed by the army and ruled until 2014.
“There are fake ID cards and fake voter cards circulating right now... If the interior ministry does not do anything, there will be problems,” Ravalomanana said in the candidates’ TV debate ahead of polling day.
“I will work and do anything to make Madagascar a developed country,” he said, underlining his experience and character in contrast to the younger Rajoelina.
Rajoelina used the debate to strike an authoritative tone, saying he would unite the country and vowing to respect the result.
“Let us agree that it is the choice of the Madagascan people who will lead the country,” he said, adding that he would “be the president of everyone, from north to south and from east to west.”
About 45 percent of the 10 million registered voters abstained from the first round, and the two surviving contenders criss-crossed the country via helicopter as they pulled out all the stops to secure votes.
Both candidates have spent lavishly on campaigning, with promises and handouts distributed liberally to voters who are among the poorest in Africa.
With the personalities of the two contenders dominating the election, issues such as poverty, corruption and lack of basic services have been largely pushed to one side.
Some analysts say that the election fallout could damage the country’s chances of development.
“We have two egos face-to-face, who do not see themselves losing and who could go on until breaking point, especially if the results are very tight,” said Sahonda Rabenarivo, of the Observatory of Political Life in Madagascar.
Former Madagascan minister of education Paul Rabary, a fringe candidate who was eliminated in the first round, said the stakes were high.
“For Marc Ravalomanana, his network cannot survive if he does not take power. For Rajoelina, his personal history is sullied by the  coup, so he must win to rescue his honor,” Rabary said.
The country’s 25,000 polling stations were to close at 5pm.
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