The people of the island nation of Madagascar are going to the polls to elect a new president. It is the country’s first election since a 2009 coup in which the current president came to power.
Both President Andy Raojoelina and the man he toppled from power, Marc Ravalomanana, were barred from standing in Friday's vote and an attempt by Ravalomanana to get his wife into the race was also blocked by an electoral court.
Among the 33 candidates on the ballot paper, only six are considered to be in with a chance, although no clear frontrunner emerged during campaigning.
Political analysts say it appears unlikely that any candidate will win the more than 50 percent needed to take the election outright in the first round of voting, making it a run-off likely. If so, it would be held in early December.
Raojoelina, a former radio disc jockey and mayor of the capital, Antananarivo, came to power in March 2009 after leading sometimes violent street protests against Ravalomanana's rule.
The move plunged Madagascar into crisis. The international community responded to the coup by imposing sanctions on the island nation. At the same time donor countries withdrew crucial financial support.
Friday's election is seen as a step toward putting impoverished Madagaskar on a path toward democracy and a way to help build confidence with foreign investors.
More than 800 foreign observers are in the country to monitor the polls amid concerns about the logistical capacity of Madagascar's electoral authority.
Despite the fact that neither Raojoelina or Rvalomanana are in the race, analysts say both continue to wield considerable political influence,
Rajoelina has not publicly endorsed any of the candidates, but both Hery Rajanoarimampianina and former Finance Minister Edgard Razafindravahy are known to be close associates of the outgoing president.
Ravalomanana, who has been in exile in South Africa since being ousted, has endorsed Jean Louis Robinson, a former cabinet minister under his rule.
The first preliminary results are expected to be announced late on Friday.
pfd/ipj (Reuters, AFP,dpa)