Madagascar delays presidential vote to July

Madagascar said on Tuesday it has delayed by more than two months a presidential election aimed at ending a long-running political crisis on the Indian Ocean island.

The vote has been moved to July 24 from May 8 because of "operational difficulties", the electoral commission said in a statement.

At a second round will be held on September 25 if necessary, on the same day as the legislative elections are scheduled.

Madagascar has been locked in political turmoil since a March 2009 coup which saw current President Andry Rajoelina oust then head of state Marc Ravalomanana with the help of the military.

"We are committed to face the challenge of the election. Hopefully the outcome of this process will be beneficial for Madagascar," election commission chief Beatrice Attallah told reporters.

The United Nations, which is providing technical support for the poll, endorsed the postponement.

One of the key challenges is funding, with the international community expected to stump up a large part of the estimated cost of $71 million (52 million euros).

The electoral commission said it and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) "found a number of problems including delays in the release of the funds necessary for the operations, delays in the deployment and collection of voters rolls".

In addition to funding woes, the work of the election organisers is not made easy by the difficult-to-access rural areas and high levels of illiteracy among the electorate.

Rajoelina, a 38-year-old former disc jockey, and Ravalomanana, 63, have opted to stay out of the 2013 race, saying their absence would favour a smooth transition.

But analysts warn the pair will likely pull strings from behind the scenes and return to the stage in the 2018 election.

Rajoelina had been pushing to switch the calendar by holding the parliamentary vote ahead of the presidential election, a move seen as giving him a door to becoming prime minister.

Ravalomanana has been exiled in South Africa since he was ousted in the 2009 coup during which 36 people were killed and hundreds wounded, allegedly by his presidential guards.

South Africa's highest court on Monday rejected a final appeal by Ravalomanana to have his passport returned.

The travel document was seized after a group of Madagascan victims of the 2009 unrest approached South African authorities to probe Ravalomanana's role in the deaths.