Madagascar's electoral court has disqualified incumbent President Andry Rajoelina and two other high-profile candidates from standing in a presidential election scheduled for Friday.
In a ruling announced Sunday, the Madagascar court said Rajoelina's submission of candidacy papers in May came too late for the election. Rajoelina has served as leader of the impoverished island nation since 2009, when he ousted president Marc Ravalomanana in a military-backed coup.
The court also blocked the presidential candidacies of Ravalomanana's wife Lalao and former president Didier Ratsiraka. It said the two candidates had not lived in Madagascar for the required six month period before their nominations.
Lalao Ravalomanana returned to her country in April to compete in the election, ending a self-imposed exile in South Africa. Ratsiraka also returned to Madagascar earlier this year after 11 years of exile in France.
Madagascar's regional and international partners had criticized the candidacies of the three high-profile figures because of their links to the country's troubled past. The 2009 coup led to Madagascar's regional isolation and suspension from the African Union and a downturn in its vital tourism industry.
The African Union issued a statement Sunday, welcoming the disqualifications as a step toward holding a presidential election that can end Madagascar's crisis. Controversies surrounding the candidacies had forced authorities to delay the vote until August 23. It was not clear if the court's latest move will lead to another delay.
The court also disqualified five other candidates from the vote and gave parties three days to nominate replacements.
Rajoelina initially said he would not to run in the election, making the pledge in January in response to appeals from the Southern African Development Community regional bloc. Marc Ravalomanana, who fled to South Africa after being forced from power, already had made a similar promise.
Rajoelina changed his mind in May, saying the candidacy of Lalao Ravalomanana had broken her husband's pledge.