Polling stations have opened in Madagascar for a run-off presidential election. Voters hope the second-round of voting will yield conclusive results and end the island nation's four-year political crisis.
Some 20,000 polling stations across Madagascar opened their doors on Friday morning at 6:00 a.m. (0300 UTC) local time. Voters had a choice of two remaining presidential candidates from October's first-round of voting. The roughly 8 million registered voters were also entitled to cast ballots for 151 members of parliament for a five-year term.
The presidential contenders are former health minister Robinson Jean Louis and former finance minister Hery Rajaonarimampianina.
Jean Louis was favored in Friday's run-off polls. In October, he won roughly 21.1 of the vote, while his rival, Rajaonarimampianina, trailed behind with just under 16 percent.
"I've known which candidate I would vote for for the past five years," voter Fanjatiana Ramanantsoa told an AFP reporter in the capital city, Antananarivo.
"I really want to see change in this country. For the past five years it's been truly horrible, " Ramanantsoa added.
A political crisis has gripped Madagascar since 2009, when then President Marc Ravalomanana relinquished power to the military in a coup. He has since lived in exile in South Africa.
The former mayor of the capital city, Andry Rajoelina, led the coup and has remained at the helm of the government.
Polling stations were expected to close at 5:00 p.m. (1400 UTC) with election results to be announced by January 7 at the latest.
Voters hoped the second-round of elections would help restore democracy in the island nation, which has expected general elections to take place for several years. Following the 2009 coup, a power-sharing agreement had decreed that a new government would be elected at the end of a 15-month transitional period.
The original elections deadline was met with repeated delays, including attempts by both interim President Rajoelina and ousted President Ravalomanana to run, despite their having been barred from seeking election.
Instead, the political enemies backed the contenders facing off on Friday. Former health minister Jean Louis and favored candidate is considered a proxy to the exiled leader Ravalomanana, while the former finance minister Rajaonarimampianina has received backing from the interim President Rajoelina.
The political instability has further impoverished the nation's 22.6 million inhabitants. In 2009, the military-backed coup led to the withdrawal of financial aid from Western nations. Many countries, including Germany, refused to recognize its transitional government.
The loss of investment led to the implementation of austerity measures by the government, undermining signs of economic growth seen under Ravalomanana from 2002-2009.
Tourism also dropped by about 50 percent in the wake of the political crisis.
kms/ipj (AFP, dpa)