WASHINGTON— Voters in Madagascar are returning to the polls Friday to elect a new president and parliament. Hopes are high that the new leadership will end a five-year political and economic crisis in the Indian Ocean island nation, where a former mayor of the capital, Antananarivo, ousted a democratically elected president in 2009.
The election runoff is being held after the first round on October 25 failed to produce an outright winner. Richard Jean-Louis Robinson of the Avana party, a former health minister in the government of ousted president Marc Ravalomanana, won about 30 percent of the vote in the first round. His rival, Hery Martial Rokotoarimanana Rajaonarimampianina, former finance minister in the transitional government headed by incumbent Andry Rajoelina, won about 15 percent.
Both candidates have promised to work on national reconciliation if elected, but after years of unrest following the 2009 coup, many in Madagascar are doubtful.
"The leaders say they want national reconciliation, but they can't even agree on just one debate," said Dizo Henri, a Antananarivo resident.
In 2009, the young mayor of Antananarivo, former disk jockey Andry Rajoelina, ousted the legally elected government of President Marc Ravalomanana with the backing of the army. Violence and political wrangling has left the country without a constitutional government since.
"The duration of this crisis has been too long. It's enough. By now we should have an elected president," said Roland Razafi, who is planning to vote at the upcoming poll.
After the coup, Madagascar came under international sanctions which caused the nation to lose foreign aid. Its tourism industry suffered as well.
Both presidential candidates say they will focus on rebuilding the economy, but political analyst Gilbert Raharizatovo think both lack the necessary experience.
"What Madagascar is looking for now is a man who's able to organize [things], who has a vision, so that's called a statesman. In Madagascar, it doesn't really exist. Why? Simply because, in my opinion, a statesman is a man who's been trained for long years to recognize what are the ethics of governance, the deontology of governance or the deontology of politics," said Raharizatovo.
Perhaps more importantly, the two candidates are seen as proxies for longtime rivals Rajoelina and Ravalomanana, both of whom are barred from running. For some voters, that means no end to the political impasse.
"This election is not a way out of the crisis, but the Madagascan people have no choice other than to choose between the two candidates," said one voter.
The run-off is taking place on the same day as parliamentary elections. The newly elected lawmakers will then nominate Madagascar's prime minister.