Voting is under way in Madagascar's first presidential polls since a military-backed coup four years ago.

Thousands of voters headed to the polls on Friday in an election many hope will end the political crisis and rebuild investor confidence to help mend an economy crippled since President Andry Rajoelina seized power in the 2009 coup.

The AFP news agency reported some incidents of violence, including a kidnapping in Benenitra, and the razing of a polling station in the Tsaratanana district.

With no clear favourite among the 33 candidates, Friday's election is not expected to produce an outright winner, meaning a likely runoff in December.

Some of the main political players, including strongman Rajoelina and the man he toppled in March 2009, Marc Ravalomanana, have been barred from running to prevent their long-standing political wrangling from jeopardising the vote.

Rajoelina told reporters after casting his vote in Antananarivo, that it was time Madagascar "returned to the constitutional order".

"The crisis has lasted too long...we feel the need of the Malagasy to fulfill their duty," he said.

Rajoelina allayed fears of a repeat of the 2009 coup saying "the results come from the choice of the people, we must accept it".

Presidential hopefuls have crisscrossed the Indian Ocean isle famed for its exotic wildlife and threatened rainforests, making lofty promises of free primary education, better management of mineral resources and a crackdown on corruption.

"People have waited a long time for this election. Finally, a chance for change," said 42-year-old Volana Ravaoarisoa, who lost her job in a textiles factory after the United States suspended Madagascar from a trade pact after the coup.

Many Malagasy are, however, less optimistic and fear the result will be disputed. That would risk prolonging uncertainty and more in the country, as it struggles to lure back foreign investors, tourists and donors.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies