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Madagascar's New President Brings Hope of Economic Change

FILE - Hery Rajaonarimampianina (L) acknowledges the crowd with his wife Lalao (R) at anelection campaign rally in Antananarivo, Madagascar, in October 2013.
FILE - Hery Rajaonarimampianina (L) acknowledges the crowd with his wife Lalao (R) at anelection campaign rally in Antananarivo, Madagascar, in October 2013.
Madagascar's electoral commission has declared Hery Rajaonarimampianina the winner of the December 20 presidential poll, although the final tally has been challenged by his opponent.   

Madagascar President Hery Rajaonarimampianina

-55 years old

-Studied accounting and finance in Canada

-Served as Madagascar's finance minister

-He was backed by 2009 coup leader, current President Andry Rajoelina

-Pledged, as president, to help the unemployed, rebuild economy
Hery Rajaonarimampianina spent the last four years as Madagascar's finance minister - a tough job in a country's whose tourism and foreign aid were drying up.

Friday, he was named the winner in the country's first election since Andry Rajoelina became president after a 2009 coup. Experts hope his election will end a five-year economic and political crisis for the country.

Rajaonarimampianina was backed by Rajoelina, while his opponent, Jean-Louis Robinson, was backed by Marc Ravalomanana, the president who was forced to resign in 2009.

The vote is being challenged by Robinson, who says there was vote-rigging, despite election observers saying they found no significant faults in the election process.

Robinson's team has filed nearly 300 complaints to the country's special electoral court.

Because the 2009 government takeover was seen as a coup d'etat by the international community, it meant that foreign aid was suspended. For Madagascar, one of the poorest countries in the world, that meant 70 percent of the national budget vanished.

For the Malagasy people, the hope is that this election makes their government legitimate in the world's eyes, and brings back investment.

"For the average people going to the polls was just to try to move forward, turn the page, get on with life and hopefully bring back what we need the most, which is unfortunately the international donors and investors and so on who went away during this crisis," said Sahondra Rabenarivo, a corporate attorney.

Bringing back that international funding and economic opportunity were key issues, she said.

"They were just galvanized around the idea of putting an end to the illegitimacy of the people in power," she said. "And either by voting them in legitimately, or you know just participating in the poll, and trying to bring the international community back to Madagascar starting with the United States who were the big pullouts really since 2009."

John Stremlau is the vice president of peace programs at the Carter Center in the United States. The center was among several intergovernmental groups overseeing the December 20 run-off poll.

He says the election process is a big step in the right direction for the country, from an international perspective. He also says he and other observers saw no evidence of the vote-rigging that Robinson has alleged.

"None of us found anything untoward other than the occasional glitch of a late opening or papers not being delivered, but nothing that would give us the sense that this was not a credible election, very well run by the electoral management body," he said.

He says Madagascar is now well-positioned, but the new government must make good decisions moving forward.

"It has great resources, it has great promise, but it has been hurt by the sanctions that have been in place now for five years," he said. "The per capita income is very low, down to less than, around a dollar a day for 90 percent of the people, so that this is a new beginning, an opportunity, but the hard work of building a democratic process has only just begun."

The Special Electoral Court will examine Robinson's appeals and announce a final verdict on the election in about two weeks.

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