Provisional results show president Marc Ravalomanana has been re-elected in what observers have generally considered free and fair elections.
Although some votes - but not enough to influence the results - still need to be counted, government projections gave Ravalomanana 54.80 percent of the presidential ballot on 3 December, a comfortable lead that will allow him to avoid a second round runoff.
"The elections went quite well. There won't be a need for a second round, [and the result] seems to be accepted by the opposition," Solofo Randrianja, professor of Political History at the University of Toamasina, told IRIN.
According to the Ministry of Interior and Reform (MIRA), voter turnout was 61.45 percent. Jean Lahiniriko, the recently sacked president of the National Assembly, was Ravalomanana's closest challenger with 11.68 percent, and Roland Ratsiraka, Mayor of Madagascar's second city, Toamasina, and nephew of former president Didier Ratsiraka, came in third with 10.09 percent.
Ravalomanana, previously mayor of the capital, took Antananarivo with 70 percent of the vote. However, "he did lose around 8 percent, compared to the results of the previous election in 2002, especially in the poor [areas]," Randrianja said, suggesting that Ravalomanana's liberal policies, which led to a hike in the price of the staple food, rice, were not appreciated by all.
Opinion remains divided over whether Ravalomanana has helped alleviate poverty. More than 85 percent of the Indian Ocean island's people live on less than US$2 a day, according to the 2006 United Nations Human Development report, while the World Bank ranks the country as the 146th poorest out of 177.
The High Constitutional Court (HCC), in charge of examining and validating the result, will have the final say, and official results are expected within the next 20 days, when it has to publish the final results.
Despite some criticism, preliminary reports by the 14,000 local and 150 international observers have been generally positive about the electoral process, lauding the calm and serenity in which the ballot took place.
According to Paul Berenger, former Mauritian Prime minister and head of the observation mission of the Electoral Institute of Southern Africa (EISA), an organisation promoting elections and democratic governance, "the conditions of the elections weren't ideal, but acceptable."
The Lack of independence of the National Electoral Council (under the authority of the MIRA), numerous mistakes on the electoral lists, unequal access to the media by candidates during campaigning, lack of transparency in electoral funding and refusal by the authorities to establish a single ballot paper were generally considered the main flaws in the electoral process.
Malagasy civil society and the international donor community pushed for a number of these reforms ahead of the election, and now strongly recommend that the Malagasy government implement changes to avoid the same problems from recurring during parliamentary elections planned for 2007.
"We will relaunch our advocacy for the reform of the electoral code and the single ballot paper," said Bouri Sanhouidi, the United Nations resident coordinator, echoing the sentiment among donors and civil society who feel confident that their chances of pressing for changes will improve after the presidential election process has concluded.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions