Madagascar voters go to polls to elect new leader

ANTANANARIVO, Madagascar (AP) — With hopes that the election of a new president will end international sanctions, residents of the Indian Ocean island of Madagascar went to the polls Friday for a second round of presidential and legislative elections.

The sanctions were imposed after Marc Ravalomanana's democratically-elected government was overthrown by Andry Rajoelina in a military-backed takeover in 2009. In Antananarivo, the capital, the voting turnout was just over 50 percent, with most people preferring to cast their votes in the morning. The lines got shorter later in the day because there were forecasts of stormy weather in the afternoon, although the rains did not arrive.

The counting of votes began shortly after polling stations closed at 5 p.m. local time but it is not certain when the results will be announced. For president, voters had to choose between Jean Louis Robinson, a former Minister of Public Health and former Minister of Sports, and outgoing Finance Minister Hery Rajaonarimampianina. Robinson has the support of former president Ravalomanana, while Rajaonarimampianina is backed by Rajoelina.

Madagascar lost a lot of foreign aid because of sanctions imposed after 2009 coup and was suspended from the African Union and the Southern African Development Community. Both Rajoelina and Ravalomanana, have been blocked from running, amid international pressure over fears of a return to violence. Ravalomanana has been living in exile in South Africa since being ousted from power.

The first round of voting, which was held on 25 October, produced no outright winner. International observers said that the polling was largely peaceful, despite some incidents of violence, and that they were free and fair.

More than 2,000 candidates contested the 119 parliamentary seats — many of them as independents. Madagascar has an estimated 7.5 million registered voters.

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