Ravalomanana set to triumph in legislative elections

Madagascar goes to the polls on 15 December, almost exactly a year since disputed presidential elections which plunged the island into a violent power struggle.

The much-anticipated legislative elections are expected to legitimise Marc Ravalomanana's presidency and pave the way for further economic reconstruction.

The election is in line with demands by the international community and the African Union (AU) that fresh polls be held before the end of the year.

This was part of a set of resolutions to defuse the stand-off between ex-president Didier Ratsiraka, who refused to accept his election defeat by Ravalomanana, who eventually declared himself president - a move endorsed by the country's highest court.

Although 40 parties are vying for 160 seats in the Malagasy National Assembly, analysts predict the elections would probably develop into a power struggle between Ravalomanana's newly founded party Tiako i Madagasikara (I love Madagascar), and the traditional ruling AREMA party.

"It goes without saying that Ravalomanana's party will be victorious in the election. But this is not to say that AREMA has no support. While in Antananarivo [the capital], it is unlikely that AREMA will get any support, in Tamatave [a Ratsiraka stronghold], there are groups of supporters who have been resistant to Ravalomanana's changes. But people want change and that is what the results will probably show," Jean Erick Rakotoaresoa, a law professor at the University of Antananarivo told IRIN.

Meanwhile, the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) said preparations for the poll were on track.

"In some of the more remote areas we had to deliver ballot boxes by helicopters and small planes but these are the usual logistical considerations in a country such as this. All of the six provinces have received the ballot boxes and papers and they have distributed it to the local authorities. We are happy with the progress so far," chief technical advisor to the IEC, Jose Astorkia, said.

Following his defeat in July, Ratsiraka fled to France leaving the once powerful AREMA party leadership in disarray.

Recently, its secretariat called for a delay of the poll, saying it needed more time to regroup.

Moreover, the party suggested the setting up of a national reconciliation forum prior to the holding of the election.

But with Ravalomanana having already received widespread support for his interim administration, both locally and internationally, the government was not inclined to compromise.

Since early last month a European Union (EU) observer mission has been monitoring preparations for the elections.

But the AU, which has been reluctant to endorse Ravalomanana's presidency, has yet to respond to an invitation to be part of the international observer mission.

Ravalomanana, a self-made millionaire and former mayor of Antananarivo, has vowed to reduce widespread poverty and improve the living standards of the country's almost 15 million people.