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Top Madagascar presidential hopeful alleges vote 'manipulation'

Tsiresena MANJAKAHERY
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Neither Andry Rajoelina (R) nor his arch-rival Marc Ravalomanana won the 50 percent of votes required for a first-round victory

The frontrunner in Madagascar's presidential race accused election officials of "manipulation" on Monday after they published results that showed him short of the absolute majority needed to avoid a second round run-off vote.

Former president Andry Rajoelina told a crowd of supporters in the capital Antananarivo that "everything had been done to prevent (him) from scoring more than 40 percent" in the November 7 first round.

"They inflated the number of registered voters and gave votes for (me) to other candidates," he said, attacking supposed "vote manipulation" by the CENI election commission.

Neither Rajoelina nor his arch-rival Marc Ravalomanana won the 50 percent of votes required for a first-round victory.

Rajoelina was on 39.19 percent and Ravalomanana on 35.29 percent, according to final results from the election commission.

Hery Rajaonarimampianina, who was running to hold on to power, secured only 8.84 percent of the vote. Turnout was 54.3 percent, according to CENI.

The run-off is scheduled for December 19.

All three leading candidates, of a total of 36, have alleged fraud and malpractice by election authorities, and the result will be subject to fierce legal battles.

Observers from the African Union, EU and Southern African Development Community bloc all said the poll was conducted fairly and largely without incident.

CENI issued a 500-word statement in response to Rajoelina's allegations insisting that it had "ensured the transparency of the electoral system at all times".

It also rejected claims by candidates that its computerised vote tallying systems had been hacked, saying that "no anomalies in the software's operation have been recorded".

- Bitter rivalries -

Rajoelina, who wore a tie in his signature orange beside a giant digital portrait of himself, had earlier said that "the only thing we agree on is that I'm in the lead".

"But we don't agree on the numbers," he added.

Rajoelina said that his campaign would approach the High Constitutional Court (HCC) "to rule on these issues in the interests of fairness", promising "victory" to his vocal backers.

The HCC has until the end of the month to certify the first-round results.

CENI said it would "refrain" from commenting on any possible legal action.

On Friday two explosions rocked supporters of Rajoelina according to police who ruled out an accident but could not immediately confirm the source of the blasts.

One shook the home of a pro-Rajoelina lawmaker in Antananarivo while the other hit an open-air amphitheatre in the city belonging to another parliamentarian.

Madagascar is one of the world's poorest countries, according to World Bank data, with almost four in five people living in grinding poverty.

But the frontrunners spent huge sums in the first round on flashy campaign rallies, helicopters and giveaways such as free T-shirts.

Both Ravalomanana and Rajoelina were banned from running in the last election in 2013 under international pressure to avoid a repeat of deadly political violence that engulfed the island in 2009.

Though Ravalomanana, 68, and Rajoelina, 44, are bitter rivals, it is the first time they have faced each other at the ballot box.

Ravalomanana ruled from 2002 to 2009 until he was ousted in a military-backed coup that installed Rajoelina, who was in power until 2014.

Rajaonarimampianina succeeded him, ruling until earlier this year.

Rajaonarimampianina's attempts to change the electoral laws this year backfired, sparking nearly three months of sometimes violent protests in Antananarivo.

The demonstrators forced Rajaonarimampianina to accept a "consensus" government tasked with organising the election in the former French colony, which is burdened by a long history of coups and unrest.