Haiti awaits first election results

A tense Haiti Monday awaited the results of pivotal elections that will see a new leader tasked with rebuilding a nation shattered by a January earthquake and gripped by raging cholera, Agence France Presse reports.

Former first lady Mirlande Manigat, 70, and Michel Martelly, a 49-year-old popular musician known to the masses by his stage name “Sweet Micky,” are tipped to be among the leading contenders for the ruined presidential palace.

But the threat of violent protest hangs over the capital, where thousands have taken to the streets in recent days, choosing not to wait for the results before denouncing the November 28 polls as rigged for the ruling party.

Campaigning for the presidential and legislative elections was marred by deadly political clashes, alleged assassination attempts and ugly riots in northern Haiti targeting UN peacekeepers accused of bringing in the cholera.

Election day was chaotic — several polling stations were trashed by mobs and many quake survivors had no identification papers — but international monitors said the irregularities were not enough to invalidate the polls.

Electoral officials are to release preliminary results on today or tomorrow, but it is not clear if the announcement will show the outcome of the polls. They have promised final results by December 20.

Twelve of the 18 presidential contenders initially cried foul and called for the polls to be scrapped, but Manigat and Martelly later reversed their decisions and sounded confident about making it through to the second round.

If none of the candidates garner more than 50 percent of the vote, a run-off between the top two will be held in January.

Haiti has been plagued by dictatorships and political upheaval, and several past leaders have fled or been forced into exile, including Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Haiti’s first democratically elected president.

President René Préval is legally barred from seeking a third term and backed ruling INITE (UNITY) party candidate Jude Celestin, who is going out with his daughter and is widely viewed as his handpicked protegé. An unexpected admission last week from INITE that Celestin may have lost fueled a sense that the dysfunctional, failing nation could experience a political watershed and manage a relatively peaceful transition of power.

Such hopes have not deterred some of the other candidates from leading vocal street protests in the capital accusing Préval’s government and the electoral commission of stuffing the ballot boxes and rigging the elections.

“Arrest René Préval! Dismiss the Provisional Electoral Council!” they shouted on Sunday as they neared the presidential palace, which was destroyed by a massive January earthquake that killed 250,000 people.

Celestin, 48, had the full use of the INITE party machinery at his disposal for the campaign and his face beamed down from every corner of Port-au-Prince on election posters.

But opinion polls suggested he was not so popular on the street, where Préval, who rose to power as a champion of the poor, has been blamed for a slow response to the quake and a failure to tackle the roots of poverty.

Manigat, a longtime opposition leader and respected academic, enjoyed a clear lead in most surveys, while Martelly typically trailed Celestin in third, well ahead of the other contenders.

Whoever does win faces the daunting task of rebuilding a traumatized nation of 10 million that was the poorest in the Americas even before the devastating earthquake, less than one year ago.

Progress has been slow — some 1.3 million people displaced by the quake live in the squalid tent cities that cling to the steep slopes of the capital.

The elections also come against the backdrop of a spiraling cholera epidemic that has killed 2,013 people and infected almost 90,000.

UN health officials say the toll is likely underestimated and have warned that the epidemic is yet to peak.

For the original AFP report go to http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5iLonKK2aXjsU1OBpySxlYIURSAOA?docId=CNG.bf5f732e01a5e252f15d1a390cbd1716.31

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