Madagascar’s presidential candidates have both claimed victory in the run-off elections, each accusing the other of rigging the vote as results started to trickle in.
Mutual mud-slinging marked the long wait as counting continued on Saturday after elections last Friday aimed at pulling the island from decline following a coup four years ago.
The latest political standoff resembles disputed polls in 2001, when both candidates’ insistence on an outright first-round win led to deadly clashes.
Former health minister Robinson Jean Louis, candidate of ousted President Marc Ravalomanana, told AFP he expected to win 56 percent, while his opponent Hery Rajaonarimampianina claimed to have taken between 60 and 65 percent.
“Up to now I’m the winner, and we had a little party last night at our headquarters because the voters who came showed we won, at least according to the results we’ve received,” Jean Louis, 61, told AFP in an interview Saturday.
As of 0700 GMT, Louis was ahead with 50.95 percent of the votes counted in 231 polling stations out of a total of 20,001.
Louis’ camp will challenge vote-rigging in court, the freemason doctor said.
“There has been massive fraud,” he charged, adding that “an entire airplane” filled with ballots pre-marked in favour of his rival had been discovered.
Ballot boxes were already half full when people started voting at the polling station where strongman Andry Rajoelina cast his ballot, Louis alleged.
Meanwhile, the camp of Rajaonarimampianina, 55, a former finance minister under Rajoelina, denied any wrongdoing.
“From our side we haven’t rigged the vote, but actually they did. We have proof,” his spokeswoman Rinah Rakotomanga said.
Friday’s parliamentary and run-off presidential polls were aimed at returning the island of 22 million people to democracy after Rajoelina seized power from Ravalomanana in an army-backed coup in 2009.
The two foes were barred from running for the presidency as the international community fears a return to violence but proxy candidates ran instead.
Peaceful, but low turnout
The election commission, security forces and international observers have not confirmed incidents of fraud after hailing generally peaceful polls, though with low turnout.
“It’s a bit sad,” said electoral commission head Beatrice Atallah. “Some people insinuate that even the helicopter which collects the results is transporting pre-marked ballots.”
Observers had opened “small enquiries” into fraud claims, she added.
UN representative for Madagascar Fatma Samoura said, “There are a lot of rumours, but these were elections to exit a crisis and there will always be rumours.”
The community of French-speaking countries gave the polls the green light despite some organisational problems.
The election commission is expected to announce final results by January 7, to be confirmed by the election court by February 18.
The Indian Ocean island has faced uncertainty for years, and is struggling to regain the confidence of foreign investors who had been eyeing deposits of oil, gold, chrome and uranium but were deterred by the coup and subsequent instability.