afrol News, 2 November - Six candidates have registered for Madagascar's presidential election, which scheduled for 16 December. Incumbent Malagasy President Didier Ratsiraka (66) is among them, and is observed as the clear favourite. Antananarivo's incumbent mayor, Marc Ravalomanana, is seen as the main challenger.
Sunday 27 October was the official deadline for the candidates to register. All the six appliers - President Didier Ratsiraka, Antananarivo's mayor Marc Ravalomanana, Herizo Razafimahaleo, Albert Zafy, Daniel Rajakoba and Patrick Rajaonary - were cleared by the Constitutional Court on Tuesday.
Speculations were high candidate Marc Ravalomanana could be disqualified by the Constitutional Court. Antananarivo mayor Ravalomanama, also a well-known businessman, had been given the highest chance to beat incumbent President Ratsiraka. 16 southern Malagasy mayors already have declared they would campaign for Ravalomanana, enhancing his chances outside the capital and among other ethnic groups than the dominant Imerina.
President Ratsiraka, who first came to power in 1975, is running for his fifth term in office. Another prominent candidate is former president Albert Zafy, who was beaten into second place by Ratsiraka in the 1996 elections. Zafy was forced to leave office after an impeachment in 1996, and Ratsiraka took office again in February 1997.
Ratsiraka and Zafy, both "grand old men" of Malagasy politics, are however expected to suffer from the widespread longing for a "new face" in the presidency. Ravalomanana's campaigners are already using this point for all it is worth, presenting him as "a young and new man, capable of accelerating the fight against poverty" in an Antananarivo press conference this weekend.
Ravalomanana would be "a favourable surprise," said campaigner Sazalahy Tsianihy. 20 years of Ratsiraka had consolidated Madagascar as one of the world's poorest nations, Ravalomanana's campaigners say.
Home Secretary Jean-Jacques Rasolondraibe, responsible minister for conducting the elections, earlier assured the press the December elections would be held in an atmosphere of transparency. Rasolondraibe said the National Election Committee had published the voter's lists and was en route setting up the 16.359 poll stations around the island.
The Malagasy government has adopted several special measures to assure the elections will be free and fair. One of the more curious measures was last month's decision to prevent the candidates from "inserting trade marks of their products on campaign posters," as the MATERA Indian Ocean news agency has reported. Two candidates, Antananarivo mayor Ravalomanama and Herizo Razafimahaleo, are "big businessmen" and the measure is to prohibit them from marketing their brands (agro-industrial products, match-boxes, etc.) together with their political message.
Elections on Madagascar traditionally have been relatively free, fair and non-violent. Last communal elections, in 1999, were however criticised for being "poorly organised and fraudulent". President Ratsiraka's party, Association for the Rebirth of Madagascar (AREMA), won both the 1998 parliamentary elections and the 1999 communal elections.