Singer Faces Former First Lady in Presidential Runoff

Singer Faces Former First Lady in Presidential Runoff

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Singer Faces Former First Lady in Presidential Runoff

The Miami Herald – By Jacqueline Charles and Trenton Daniel – February 3, 2011

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Haiti’s presidential runoff election will pit a popular singer and political novice against a former first lady with a record of political opposition, election officials announced early Thursday morning.

Michel “Sweet Micky” Martelly, 49, was chosen over Jude Celestin, the government-backed candidate, to compete for the Haitian presidency in a March 20 runoff. His opponent, former first lady Mirlande Manigat, 70, was set to be one of the two candidates in the runoff since preliminary results of a disputed Nov. 28 election showed her in first place.

The decision over who would get a chance to replace President Rene Preval came after a sleepless night during which 100 Haitian and foreign journalists kept vigil inside a defunct Gold’s Gym in Petionville as officials deliberated for more than 10 hours.

Elections spokesman Richardson Dumel finally appeared alone at 7:14 a.m., offering first the results of the 105 contested legislative races. The presidential runoff results were listed on the council’s website. Dumel offered no explanation when he finally announced at 7:34 a.m. that Martelly and Manigat were headed into Haiti’s first presidential runoff in 25 years.

The long wait only added to the suspense. The final announcement followed a day of rumors and months of political uncertainty, diplomatic wrangling and pressure by the international community, including the United States.

Last month, the top U.S. diplomat to the United Nations warned a quake-battered Haiti that it could lose valuable international aid if it failed to accept the recommendations of a controversial Organization of American States report.

An OAS team was assembled to review vote tallies and make recommendations after allegations of massive fraud in the November election.

The OAS report suggested the elections could be salvaged with an improved second round, and recommended that Martelly, not Celestin, enter the runoff.

In the preliminary results, Celestin was listed as the second-place finisher and Martelly third.

But after the OAS team reviewed 919 of 11,000 tally sheets, it recommended that 234 tally sheets be excluded because they were irregular or fraudulent.

That left a 0.3 percentage point, or 3,225 vote difference, between Martelly and Celestin.

Preval and Celestin, 48, have disputed the report, questioning its methodology and citing examples where votes were not counted on behalf of the candidate at the vote tabulation center. Last week, Celestin’s lawyers challenged the report and his standing before a five-member electoral tribunal.

The case was thrown out by the tribunal. So was the case of another presidential candidate, Charles-Henri Baker, whose lawyers argued that the elections should be cancelled.

While Thursday’s decision provides some clarity to the months-long dispute, it’s unclear whether it will resolve the political uncertainty that has shrouded Haiti since a dozen presidential candidates disrupted the vote with lunchtime accusations of “massive fraud” and demanded cancellations.

Martelly and Manigat were initially among them but backtracked after they learned they were leading.

“It is not clear that a second round will bring stability to Haiti, let alone legitimacy to the new president,” said Robert Fatton, a Haiti expert at the University of Virginia, who has closely followed the crisis.

“The controversial first round ‹ as well as the patterns of foreign interference ‹ have left many sectors disenchanted with the process,” he said. “In addition, whoever is elected will have to deal with an unruly parliament and prime minister. So this is a first and small step toward the creation of a new government, but it may well be a detour to a new crisis.”

In all, elections officials deliberated 108 disputed results, including 105 for legislative races. Parliament will hold the balance of power and could hamper the president’s ability to run the country. The county will have a split majority with one party in the presidency, and another party or parties holding power in parliament. Neither Martelly’s nor Manigat’s political parties ran enough candidates to win a majority in parliament.

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