(The Nov. 1 story was refiled to correct the name of the incumbent president in the cross-head)
By Lovasoa Rabary
ANTANANARIVO (Reuters) - Madagascar’s President Hery Rajaonarimampianina faces two main challengers in Nov. 7 elections - both key players in the island’s past political turmoil who have promised to put that behind them and keep the economy’s recovery on track.
One is Marc Ravalomanana, who served as president from 2002 to 2009. The other is Andry Rajoelina, the man who seized power from him in a coup - a takeover that scared off foreign investors and led donors to freeze funds.
There will be 33 other candidates on the long ballot paper. But few are seen having the influence or cash to take on the three established figures and capitalise on discontent over an economy that has still not fully recovered from the chaos.
Bending to international diplomatic pressure, Rajoelina gave up power in 2013. Rajaonarimampianina went on to win the presidency in elections that year.
The incumbent president, 59, is an accountant by training and previously served as finance minister.
His top pledge had been to mend the economy and growth has improved on his watch - the IMF expects the economy to expand by five percent this year, the highest level since the coup.
But his tenure has been marred by political disputes. Lawmakers voted to impeach him in 2015, saying he had violated the constitution by dragging religion into politics. He dismissed the accusation and the constitutional court threw out the impeachment vote.
Critics say he has made as little progress in curbing rampant corruption as his predecessors.
On the campaign trail Rajaonarimampianina has said he is the only candidate who can keep the nascent economic recovery going. “The door to success is open, we can not go back,” he said in a video posted on his campaign page on YouTube.
A former disc jockey who goes locally by the nickname “TGV” after the fast French train, Rajoelina seized power from then President Marc Ravalomanana in 2009. Known for his rapid-fire rhetoric and charisma, he became Africa’s youngest president at the age of 34.
During his four years in power, poverty and corruption grew as investors and donors cut aid.
He supported Rajaonarimampianina in the 2013 election after he agreed not run himself to help restore order.
This time, the former president is promising infrastructure development - everything from hospitals, schools and sports stadiums - and pledging to improve beaches to make them “like those of Miami and Côte d’Azur” to draw more tourists and promote job creation.
Madagascar’s elected leader from 2002 until he was overthrown in 2009, Ravalomanana is known to voters as “the milkman” because he owns the country’s leading dairy conglomerate.
Following a power struggle and weeks of bloody street protests, the self-made millionaire businessmen was toppled in a military coup and replaced by Rajoelina.
He lived for years in exile in South Africa before returning to Madagascar in 2014 to mount his political comeback.
Ravalomanana, 68, says the country has gone backwards since he was ousted. If elected, he told Reuters in an interview: “We will rebuild everything they have destroyed, repair the roads that we built when I was president and that have not been maintained until now.”
Reporting by Lovasoa Rabary in Antananarivo, Additional reporting by Hereward Holland and Duncan Miriri in Nairobi, Editing by Maggie Fick and Andrew Heavens