Peaceful vote in Madagascar is marred by missing ballot papers

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The Independent Online

A charismatic dairy tycoon known as "the Milkman" was one of 13 candidates standing against President Marc Ravalmanana in Madagascar's poll yesterday.

The last elections, five years ago, led to a six-month power struggle that split the nation. But initial reports from observers said polling went well and peacefully, with about seven million voters registered.

Counting had started in some areas last night and President Ravalmanana, who needs to win 50 per cent of the votes to avoid a second-round run-off, was expected to take an early lead. There were some concerns about Madagascar's peculiar electoral system, under which candidates must print their own ballot sheets. The government, for the first time, has taken responsibility for delivering the ballots to polling stations. The president of the election observation organisation CNOE said ballot papers for four candidates had not been delivered to polling stations across the country.

Asked about this problem, Mr Ravalmanana said yesterday: "This is not my responsibility but I believe that most of them have their papers in place."

In the previous elections in December 2001, fighting broke out after the incumbent, Didier Ratsiraka, refused to accept defeat. After months of rival governments in two capitals and low level fighting between their loyalists, Mr Ratsiraka fled to France.