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TOAMASINA, Madagascar – Voting started Wednesday in Madagascar where nearly 10 million citizens are casting their ballots 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, say political analysts.
The winner must take more than 50 percent of the votes cast and with such a large number of candidates, it is likely the race will go to a second round, scheduled for Dec. 19.
In the capital, Antananarivo, the delivery of election materials caused some polling stations to open 15 to 30 minutes after the official time.
The three former presidents who are the leading candidates have all voted. Former President Marc Ravalomanana, who ruled between 2002 and 2009, voted in his neighborhood in Faravohitra, in the center of the capital.
Andry Rajoelina, who was president during the transitional period of 2009 to 2013, voted in the capital's Ambatobe district.
And former president Hery Rajaonarimampianina, who led the country from 2013 to 2018, also voted in the Antananarivo. According to Madagascar's laws, Rajaonarimampianina resigned in order to campaign, leaving the country to be run by the president of the senate.
Voting took place normally in the center of Toamasina, a large port city on the east coast of the island.
The use of the single ballot, which includes the names and photos of all 36 candidates, somewhat slows the flow of polling stations.
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.
There are 9.9 million registered voters who will go to the polling stations. Preliminary results are expected by Nov. 14 and officials have until Nov. 28 to declare the final results.