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Published: Saturday December 21, 2013 MYT 7:25:04 PM
Updated: Saturday December 21, 2013 MYT 7:25:58 PM

Madagascar presidential candidates neck and neck in early count

ANTANANARIVO (Reuters) - The two candidates in Madagascar's presidential run-off election were neck and neck in early vote counting on Saturday, in a poll meant to end a deep-rooted political rift that has driven away investors and contributed to a shrinking economy.

Voters have a choice between a former finance minister backed by outgoing President Andry Rajoelina, the disc jockey-turned-statesman whom the army helped to power in 2009, and an ally of Marc Ravalomanana, the leader ousted in the coup.

As of 0700 GMT, Robinson Jean Louis, an ally of Ravalomanana, was ahead with 50.95 percent of the votes counted in 231 polling stations out of a total of 20,001.

Hery Rajaonarimampianina, allied to Rajoelina, was only just behind, but if neither contender emerges as a clear winner, analysts expect political wrangling to continue in the impoverished island of 22 million people.

The Indian Ocean island has faced uncertainty for years, and is struggling to regain the confidence of foreign investors who had been eyeing deposits of oil, gold, chrome and uranium but were deterred by the coup and subsequent instability.

Mamy Ralaiariliva, vice president of election body CENIT, said they had until January 7 to publish the final results.

There was no clear favourite, as the candidates had little public prominence until this ballot. Parliamentary elections also took place on Friday, raising the prospect of rival political camps controlling opposing offices.

Ravalomanana and Rajoelina agreed not to stand in the election in a regionally brokered deal to defuse tensions. A last-minute attempt by Rajoelina to run when Ravalomanana's wife stepped into the race led to a court order blocking both.

(Reporting by Alain Iloniaina; Editing by George Obulutsa and Mike Collett-White)

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