(Updates with African Union’s comment)
By Lovasoa Rabary
ANTANANARIVO, Nov 9 (Reuters) - No irregularities important enough to affect the result of Madagascar’s presidential election have been found, the head of an EU observer mission said on Friday, although he recommended a campaign spending cap to level the playing field in future.
President Hery Rajaonarimampianina, who was running for a second term in Wednesday’s vote, complained on Thursday about the use of an invalid voter register, delays in the opening of the polls in some places, intimidation and ballot-stuffing.
Rajaonarimampianina and his two predecessors as president are the three front-runners in the first round, the top two of whom are expected to face each other in a run-off next month.
The EU’s chief observer Cristian Preda said any irregularities observed so far were not sufficient to change the outcome or call the vote into question.
“We are in a good atmosphere. The disputes are part of the democratic game... it’s normal, it’s human. Disputes must be handled by the law enforcement bodies,” Preda said.
He however noted that the lack of a cap on campaign spending by the candidates had put some at a disadvantage, without providing any names.
The result of the first round of voting in one of the world’s poorest countries could hinge in part on which of the frontrunners, all wealthy men, spent the most money.
“In 2013, the European Union recommended capping candidate expenses and in future reports, there will still be this recommendation,” Preda said.
Voters are eager to elect a winner who will tackle the impoverished Indian Ocean island’s many problems including unemployment and corruption. The election commission is expected to announce a preliminary result by Nov. 20, and the High Constitutional court would issue the final result by Nov. 29.
All candidates must restrain their supporters and respect the results, said Ramtane Lamamra, the head of the African Union’s observer mission.
“Any dispute that may arise after the announcement of the results must obey the rules of law and be submitted to the competent jurisdictions,” he said, singling out the three leading candidates. “As former heads of state, they should not take actions that can cause unrest.”
The poll pits Rajaonarimampianina against former presidents Andry Rajoelina and Marc Ravalomanana as the frontrunners in a field of 36 candidates.
Because of the unusually high number of contestants, few expect an outright winner and the poll is widely expected to go to a second round between the top two candidates on Dec. 19.
Residents are hoping for the second peaceful election since 2009, when Ravalomanana was forced out of office by protests led by Rajoelina in what international organisations such as the African Union said was a coup. (Writing by Duncan Miriri Editing by William Maclean and Peter Graff)