Cash crunch threatens to delay Madagascar election

This year's presidential election in Madagascar -- billed as a way out of the country's crippling three-year political crisis -- could be derailed by a lack of funding, the country's electoral agency warned Thursday.

Vote organisers face a cash shortfall of at least $13 million ahead of polling due on May 8, with preparations stalled by the cash shortfall.

"The difficulties and delays are due to the delayed release of funds," Fano Rakotondrazaka, spokesman of the electoral commission Cenit, told AFP.

If funds are made available, the "Cenit hopes the election dates will be met."

The United Nations says the vote will cost $71 million of which $13 million still needs to be found according to UN coordinator Fatma Samoura.

That has resulted in as many as 700,000 people not being provided with identity cards needed to take part in the vote, Rakotondrazaka said.

The Indian Ocean island, which has been mired in a political crisis since March 2009 when former president Marc Ravalomanana was ousted by the current strongman Andry Rajoelina, had solicited UN expertise to help it organise the polls.

In addition to inadequate funding, the work of the election organisers is not made easy by the difficult-to-access rural areas, high levels of illiteracy and a general lack of information.

According to the Interior Ministry, the vast majority of political parties have not yet registered for the elections.

Madagascar has been mired in serious crisis since the end of 2008 and the toppling of Ravalomanana in 2009 by Rajoelina, then mayor of Antananarivo.

Ravalomanana who is exiled in South Africa, announced last month that he will not stand for election and urged his rival to follow suit. But Rajoelina has not yet made his decision known.

Observers doubt the country can hold acceptable polls.

"In view of the current environment and the general context, it seems difficult at this stage to organise credible elections," said Guy Ratrimoarivony, a professor at the Centre for Diplomatic and Strategic Studies in Antananarivo.