Madagascar presidential hopeful Marc Ravalomanana has said he is confident of closing the gap for a second round victory over his rival who narrowly beat him in the first leg of presidential polls.
Andry Rajoelina got 39.23 percent of votes and Ravalomanana 35.35 percent in last month’s poll, according to final results, setting up the pair for a close contest in the December 19 run-off to lead the Indian Ocean island nation.
“The difference between me and the first placed candidate was just 3 or 5 percent,” Ravalomanana told AFP at his palatial home on Monday in the capital Antananarivo.
“We can catch up and overtake him.”
Outgoing president Hery Rajaonarimampianina came a distant third with just 8.82 percent.
Campaigning for the closely-watched second round begins on Tuesday and promises to be a fierce fight as the bitter rivals make their final pitches to the electorate of nearly 10 million.
Ravalomanana ruled from 2002 to 2009, followed by Rajoelina who was in power until 2013, and then Rajaonarimampianina until earlier this year.
Ravalomanana has a tense relationship with Rajoelina, who succeeded him with the backing of the army in a 2009 uprising that generated deep political divisions and damaged investment.
“If we hadn’t had this coup, Madagascar would be the leading country in Africa today because in 2008 the growth rate was 7.8 percent”, said Ravalomanana who wore a red tie with an immaculate pressed white shirt.
Though nearly a decade has passed, wealthy dairy baron Ravalomanana, 69, is still bitter about his 46-year-old rival’s military-backed elevation to the presidential palace.
– ‘Rebuild this nation’ –
The pair — armed with significant campaign resources — have crisscrossed the island of 25 million by helicopter promising voters a better future.
Ravalomanana promised to tackle the unrest that has dogged Madagascar in recent months as he brandished his manifesto and vowed to restart a welfare programme for schoolchildren started during his term in office.
“We are going to rebuild this nation because it has all been destroyed, we’re going to restore trust between the people and their leaders,” he said.
Ravalomanana is counting on mobilising voters who abstained in the first round — 46 percent of those eligible to cast ballots — to close the gap with Rajoelina.
He has also sought to secure the backing of the 34 presidential hopefuls who were knocked out in the first round.
“I’ve already had (those) candidates come here, yesterday and the day before,” he said, watched closely by his daughter and adviser Sarah.
Ravalomanana-friendly media reported on Tuesday that six former contenders had come out in support of the former president, including former prime minister Olivier Mahafaly Solonandrasana.
But former president Rajaonarimampianina has ruled out picking sides in the closely-fought contest.
“He didn’t keep his promise — he had said he would back me if I came out on top and vice versa,” complained Ravalomanana.
“(But) his supporters have already come out in support of me and that’s enough.”
– ‘I neglected the military’ –
Despite facing allegations, along with his two leading first-round rivals, of breaching campaign spending rules, Ravalomanana insists he did not “buy” his place in the second round.
“The outgoing president had the power and the money — yet he still didn’t win,” he said.
“It’s not the money or the power that counts, it’s policy.”
Yet the flashy campaigns mounted by all three men, each known for their personal wealth, jarred with the grinding hardship endured by ordinary voters.
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 Ravalomanana insists he has a vision to change the island state for good.
“I can guarantee you that I will win, it’s sure!” he said even before the two pre-vote TV debates which will see him go head to head with his arch-rival.
He vowed that if he came out the winner after December 19 he would not repeat what he described as the only error of his first term — cutting the military’s budget.
It was that decision which he claims pushed the army to help oust him and install Rajoelina in 2009.
“I neglected the military by focussing on rural development and education,” he said.
© Agence France-Presse
Source: Seychelles News Agency