Troubled Haiti wins praise for calm election

Haiti won plaudits for holding a calm and relatively peaceful presidential run-off on Monday as partial results suggested carnival singer Michel Martelly could emerge the victor, Agence France Presse reports.

The United Nations, which deploys thousands of peacekeepers in the notoriously troubled Caribbean nation, where more than 220,000 people were killed in a January 2010 earthquake, offered particularly strong praise.

Now, the “primary task would be to oversee the reconstruction of the country after the tremendous tragedies that have befallen it in the past year,” said UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

There had been fears Sunday’s run-off, delayed for months by bickering over a violence-plagued first round in November, would be overshadowed by the return from exile of charismatic ex-president Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

But Aristide honored a commitment not to upset the delicate political situation and voting was largely peaceful in the Caribbean nation whose recent past has been scarred by dictatorship and upheaval.

Tally sheets read out on television and radio indicated Martelly was well ahead of his rival, former first lady Mirlande Manigat, in key urban areas including Petionville and the Cite Soleil slum in the capital.

“I think he has won the election. From everything that I’ve heard it looks like it may even be a landslide, at least in the urban areas,” said US-based Haiti expert Robert Fatton.

The authorities said two people were killed in election-related incidents but that in most parts of the country, the elections had passed off peacefully.

France described the polls as “satisfactory” and urged candidates not to risk stirring up trouble by prejudging the results.

They “should respect this democratic process by abstaining from any unilateral proclamation based on partial results,” a spokesman for French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe told reporters in Paris.

Known to fans by his former stage name “Sweet Micky,” the 50-year-old Martelly waged a slick campaign built on the promise he would dramatically transform Haiti’s corrupt politics.

The candidates are vying for the job of rebuilding a nation beset by problems, from endemic poverty and the aftermath of the 2010 quake to a cholera epidemic that has claimed almost 5,000 lives since mid-October.

Pre-election opinion polls showed Martelly enjoying a slim lead over the soft-spoken Manigat, a 70-year-old whose husband was briefly president in the 1980s before being ousted by a coup.

Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) president Gaillot Dorsinvil downplayed reports of irregularities, insisting they would have “no impact on the electoral process as a whole.”

“It was a triumph of democracy,” he said. “And the makers of this victory were the Haitian people.”

Haiti expert Fatton worried about a low turnout but said concerns about the legitimacy of the new administration would evaporate if Martelly was to win convincingly.

“On the other hand if those initial results are incorrect and you have a very close election then I think we are in for a very turbulent period,” he warned.

Voting Sunday at a school in the upscale neighborhood of Petitionville, Martelly told a crowd of several hundred cheering supporters: “Today is the day of change, change for Haiti. The day when Haiti will escape its misery.”

The international community is watching closely as it has committed billions of dollars to help reconstruct Haiti, where hundreds of thousands of quake survivors are forced to eke out an existence in squalid camps.

Some camp residents said participation in the poll was a pointless exercise. “What for? Nobody helps us,” said Francine.

Others complained their identification cards needed for voting were lost in the quake and had not yet been replaced.

The problems, however, were minor compared to November when polling stations were trashed and the whole process deteriorated into a farce when most of the candidates called for a re-run even before the polls had closed.

At least five people were killed in December when days of rioting erupted at the news that Martelly had finished third behind ruling party candidate Jude Celestin and would not make the run-off.

After weeks of US-led pressure and a review by international monitors, Martelly was eventually reinstated at the expense of Celestin, who was seen as current President Rene Preval’s handpicked successor.

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