By Alain Iloniaina and Richard Lough
ANTANANARIVO (Reuters) - Results trickled in from Madagascar's presidential election on Saturday, though it was too early to identify a dominant candidate in the vote that many hope will save a cash-starved economy left crippled by a coup.
A credible poll would be an important step towards luring back tourists and investors who were scared off when mutinous troops swept former disc jockey Andry Rajoelina to power in the Indian Ocean island in 2009.
Around 18 hours after voting ended, the electoral commission (CENIT) had released provisional results from just 117 out of more than 20,000 polling stations, indicating the huge logistical task it faces on one of the world's largest islands.
"Things will start moving faster," said Jean Victor Rasolonjatovo, executive secretary of the CENIT, which has until November 8 to release complete provisional results.
Madagascar's 'L'Express' newspaper ran the headline "Indecisive Battle".
The numbers showed early leads for two of the most fancied candidates, Jean Louis Robinson, a close political ally of the president ousted in 2009, Marc Ravalomanana, and Hery Rajaonarimampianina, a former finance minister under Rajoelina.
But it was too early to draw any concrete trends from the partial results, which accounted for less than 1 percent of total registered voters on the island, famed for its lemurs and eyed by foreign firms for its minerals.
SECOND ROUND SEEN
The real test will be if the results are challenged by any of the 33 candidates.
Rajoelina, 39, whose power grab prompted donors to suspend budget support funds and African powers to impose sanctions, urged all presidential hopefuls to accept the result.
Most voters and foreign diplomats did not expect Friday's election to produce an outright winner, who would need to secure more than half of the votes.
"At the very least we are sure to make it through to a second round but we don't exclude winning in the first round," Robinson told Reuters by phone.
His rival's camp was equally buoyant.
"We're confident of going through to a second round," Rajaonarimampianina's campaign manager, Joabarison Randrianarivony said.
It could be more than a week before the election result is clear. Some polling stations were so remote it could take two or three days to motorbike the results to the nearest point where they can be electronically relayed to the CENIT in the capital.
Helicopters were being drafted in to collect ballot papers from the most far-flung voting centres, one electoral official familiar with the logistics told Reuters.
International election observers said the vote was generally calm with no sign of voter intimidation, though numerous eligible voters complained they had been unable to vote after apparent glitches in the registration process.