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ANTANANARIVO, Madagascar – Voters in Madagascar will go to the polls Wednesday to elect a president with hopes that a new leader will take this Indian Ocean island nation out of chronic poverty and corruption.
The 36 candidates have all promised to improve the country's economy, create new jobs and end graft, but the three leaders in the race are familiar faces who offer little chance of a dramatic change, according to political analysts.
The winning candidate must take more than 50 percent of the votes cast and with such a large number running, it is likely the race will go to a second round, scheduled for Dec. 19.
The leading candidates are three former presidents - Marc Ravalomanana, Andry Rajoelina and Hery Rajaonarimampianina - and for weeks have been campaigning by flying across the island by helicopter to address rallies.
Hery Rajaonarimampianina, 59, stepped down as president in September in order to campaign and left the country to be run by the president of the senate. He said he needs another term to improve Madagascar's economy.
"When I arrived in 2014, the extreme poverty rate was 92 percent," he said at a rally last week. "All cannot be done in a day, there are many projects that can only be realized in the long term."
Former president Marc Ravalomanana, 68, was forced to resign by the military in 2009 has always promised his supporters that he will return to power.
"I promised you that I will come back to date. Nine years later, it's time," he said. He vowed to improve Madagascar's economy so that ordinary citizens will be able to live better.
Andry Rajoelina, 44, was brought to power in 2009 by the military and ruled for an interim period. He promises to end corruption.
A fourth former president, Didier Ratsiraka, 81, is also running but he is not considered likely to win the ballot.
With an estimated 76 percent of its 25 million people in extreme poverty, Madagascar is one of the world's poorest countries, according to the World Bank.
"This election ... an opportunity for the people to choose a new president who, we hope, will be able to recover the country and to defeat its most persistent demons: poverty, corruption, impunity, bad governance," said Ketakandriana Rafitoson, the director of Transparency International's Madagascar branch. "Unfortunately, this looks bad because those who are likely to win these elections are the specialists and sources of these vices mentioned above. For all - Ratsiraka, Rajoelina, Rajaonarimampianina and Ravalomanana - Everyone did their share of dirty work. One after another, they have pushed this country into the abyss in which it is today."
There are 9.9 million registered voters who will go to the polling stations, which will be open from 6 a.m. until 5 p.m. local time (0900GMT until 1800GMT). Preliminary results are expected by Nov. 14 and officials have until Nov. 28 to declare the final results.