ANTANANARIVO, Madagascar (AP) — Madagascar's special electoral court has removed the country's incumbent president, the wife of his longtime rival and a former president from its list of presidential candidates, officials said.
The Special Electoral Court canceled the candidacy of President Andry Rajoelina and Lalao Ravalomanana, who is the wife of Marc Ravalomanana, the leader that Rajoelina overthrew in 2009. Former president Didier Ratsiraka was also removed from the list on Saturday.
The court said neither Ravalomanana nor Ratsiraka met the physical residence requirements for candidacy of living in the country for six months. Ratsiraka had fled to France in exile in 2002 and had not lived permanently on the Indian Ocean island since then.
The electoral court said that Rajoelina's filing for candidacy did not occur during the statutory period. Rajoelina in January said he wouldn't run in this year's elections, but then in May filed for candidacy. He said he decided to run because the candidacy of Ravalomanana's wife, Lalao, is the same as Ravalomanana running himself.
The Southern African Development Community, a regional bloc of 15 countries, had recommended that neither Ravalomanana nor Rajoelina run as a way of resolving Madagascar's political troubles. The island of 20 million people has been in political turmoil since former disc jockey Rajoelina seized power in 2009.
Ravalomanana agreed in December not to run. He lives in exile in South Africa.
Five other candidates were also dropped from the list, the court said, adding that they had three days to file replacement candidates.
The African Union said it welcomed the Special Electoral Court's decision for an "election that would mark the conclusion of the crisis exit process and the restoration of constitutional order."
The presidential election is scheduled for Aug. 23. It will be the first held in Madagascar since Ravalomanana was removed from power.
The East African island is hilly and lush with rice paddies. It is renowned for its rain forests that feature a rare level of biodiversity, including endemic lemurs. The country's tourism industry, however, has been badly hit by the political turmoil, further battering a nation that is one of the world's poorest countries.