Southern African officials have welcomed what appears to be forward movement after four years of political stalemate in Madagascar. The remote nation's electoral court has removed the coup leader and two controversial political figures from the ballot and finally appears ready to hold elections.
The Indian Ocean nation of Madagascar may finally be coming in from the cold after four years of isolation after a 2009 coup and an ensuing political crisis.
After years of election postponements and stalled negotiations, the last week has seen two hopeful developments: first, the nation's special electoral court cut three prominent and controversial figures from the ballot - the coup leader, who had reneged on a promise not to run; the wife of the president who was overthrown in that 2009 coup; and the man who served as president before that.
And then, on Thursday, the nation set a poll date of October 25 for presidential elections, with parliamentary elections on December 20.
Clayson Monyela, a spokesman for South Africa's foreign ministry, said the bloc is optimistic. He said both South Africa and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) will play an active role in helping Madagascar administer the poll.
"We believed all along that their names needed to be excluded. This has been the position of South Africa, been the position of the entire SADC region. Now that the electoral commission has taken the decision to remove their names, we believe this is a positive development, and it should assist that country to have a credible election with outcomes that can be embraced and welcomed by all in that country, which would be a step further in the process to return Madagascar to constitutional normalcy," Monyela said.
Analysts and mediators had said the three should not have been allowed to run in the first place - former president Didier Ratsiraka and the wife of exiled ex-president Marc Ravalomanana did not meet residency requirements, as they had left the country. And coup leader Andry Rajoelina agreed not to run as part of an SADC deal aimed at restoring a democratic government.
Monyela said he did not anticipate problems among the removed candidates. "Even prior to this decision, the former president, Ravalomanana, the current president Rajoelina, had committed themselves - not once, not twice, but several times in official meetings - that they would not contest. So we don't think that their removal as candidates from the list, or at least the partner in terms of Ravalomanana, we don't think their removal as candidates is something which should create problems," he explained.
A month ago, the landscape looked very different. Analyst David Zounmenou of the Pretoria-based Institute for Security Studies predicted a very different outcome for Rajoelina, whose tenure has seen an economic decline.
"The same way he came to power, through popular uprising, is going to be the same way he [leaves] power, through popular uprising. Because people are losing their jobs, youngsters who cannot get employment will simply point at him as the man responsible for the situation that is prevailing in Madagascar," said Zounmenou.
That scenario may have been averted, but the problems created by the crisis may not be so easily forgotten. During Rajoelina's rule, Zounmenou said, 200,000 people lost their jobs.
The crisis also provoked drops in government spending and donor inputs, which led to a marked decline in the nation's humanitarian situation.
So even if the poll goes smoothly, Madagascar's next leader faces a daunting task.