Madagascar presidential vote delayed to July 24 By AFP | Wednesday, February 6  2013 at  15:41

Andry Rajoelina
Madagascar's President Andry Rajoelina. FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

Madagascar's crunch presidential elections expected to end a long-running political crisis sparked by a 2009 coup has been postponed by more than two months, the electoral agency announced Tuesday.

"Operational difficulties" prompted the decision to move the vote from May 8 to July 24, the electoral commission said in a statement. A second round, if necessary, will be held on September 25, it said.

The United Nations, which is providing technical support for the polls, endorsed the postponement.

Electoral commission chief Beatrice Attallah told reporters: "We are committed to face the challenge of the election. Hopefully the outcome of this process will be beneficial for Madagascar."

One of the key challenges is funding for the polls, with the international community expected to stump up a large part of the estimated cost of $71 million.

Bitter rivals in the country's political crisis, Andry Rajoelina and Marc Ravalomanana, have opted out of the race, saying their absence would favour a smooth transition.

But analysts warn the pair will likely pull strings from behind the scenes and return to the stage in the 2018 elections.

Rajoelina, a 38-year-old former disc jockey, ousted the Indian Ocean island's elected president Ravalomanana with the army's backing in March 2009.

Ravalomanana is 63.