ANTANANARIVO: International observers on Sunday hailed Madagascar's presidential election as results trickling in two days after the poll suggested a probable run-off.
Representatives of the European Union and regional bloc SADC described Friday's poll as free, peaceful and transparent despite organisational hiccups that prevented some from casting their ballots.
The election is aimed at ending a four-year political and economic deadlock and restoring democracy in the vast Indian Ocean island country.
With 11 percent of the votes counted by late Sunday afternoon, candidates associated with ousted leader Marc Ravalomanana and his rival strongman Andry Rajoelina still looked set to square off in run-off polls in December.
Robinson Jean Louis, from the exiled leader's camp, led with 30 percent of the votes counted so far , while Hery Rajaonarimampianina, of Rajoelina's party, was second with 15 percent.
The polls were a first step for the island to return to democracy after interim leader Rajoelina seized power in 2009, provoking its suspension from international bodies and a freeze in foreign aid and investment.
"The elections were free, transparent and credible," said the EU's chief election observer Maria Muniz de Urquiza.
"Despite certain difficulties in the organisation, the vote went well," she said, presenting a preliminary report.
The EU hailed a "calm" campaign period and election day, she said, despite isolated incidents of violence.
A local government official was shot dead inside a polling station in the south an apparent revenge attack unrelated to the polls, while another person was kidnapped in another southern town and a voting station was set ablaze in the north.
Muniz de Urquiza however expressed concern over weak voter registration levels.
"A non-negligible percentage of Malagasies are not listed on the voters' roll," she said. "The whole of the voter potential has not been registered."
A total of 7.8 million people had been registered out of the island's 22 million population. Figures of potential voters were not immediately available.
The EU also noted "shortcomings" in party financing.
"It is desirable to have laws that allow transparency and traceability of funds" that candidates use in campaigning, said Muniz de Urquiza.
Meanwhile, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) concluded that the elections were "peaceful, calm, fair and transparent, and reflect the will of the people," according to Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah, the head of its observer mission.
The regional bloc brokered a roadmap to return Madagascar to democratic rule after Rajoelina's coup.
While some residents and analysts expressed concern at the slow rate of reporting -- just over 3,000 voting stations out of about 20,000 -- the EU said the delay was to be expected.
"It's important that the results are really verified. We can't rush anyone... accurate results are more important than speed," said Muniz de Urquiza.
Both Rajoelina and Ravalomanana were barred from running in the poll after intense international pressure.
But on Saturday their camps had already begun campaigning for the expected run-off.
Jean Louis, Ravalomanana's proxy candidate, met his supporters in the capital Antananarivo at the ruins of a supermarket that once belonged to the ousted president but was destroyed when he was deposed.
Jean Louis has suggested the ousted leader or his wife Lalao Ravalomanana might become prime minister if he won.
Rajaonarimampianina, who is not formally endorsed by interim leader Rajoelina but is widely perceived to be his favourite, told AFP he aimed to reverse the country's economic woes.
The world's fourth-largest island is famed for picture-perfect beaches and exotic wildlife, but poverty increased during the political crisis with nine out of 10 people now living below the poverty line.
The highly aid-reliant country, whose economy is based largely on textiles and tourism, lost a third of its foreign budget support after the 2009 coup.