Haitians protest as run-off candidates announced

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Wednesday December 8, 2009 – President René Préval’s handpicked successor and a former first lady have been announced as the candidates for a run-off for Haiti’s presidential elections, sparking protests in the capital.

The Electoral Provisional Council (CEP) announced last night that law professor and former first lady Mirlande Marigat, 70, got the most votes – 31.37 percent – followed by Preval’s 48-year-old protégé Jude Celestin with 22.48 percent. 

Angry supporters of eliminated candidates, including popular musician Michel ‘Sweet Micky’ Martelly who was widely expected to be in the run-off, burned tyres, set up barricades, and threw bottles and rocks after the announcement that Haitians had been anxiously waiting on for more than a week. 

Gunshots rang out in the Delmas district in the capital, during the riots, but so far there have been no reports of deaths.

Marigat and Celestin will face off in a run-off vote on January 16th since none of the 19 candidates got the needed minimum 50 percent of the vote to win the November 28th election outright.

The announcement came as a surprise to voters, especially following unofficial results and opinion polls that put Martelly and Manigat as the frontrunners and suggested that only a small percentage of the voters had cast their ballots for Celestin.

“If they don’t give us Martelly and Manigat, Haiti will be on fire,” the Associated Press – which reported that one of its journalists was robbed in the melee – quoted a protestor as saying. “We’re still living under tents and Celestin wastes money on election posters.”

Celestin, who heads the state-owned construction company whose trucks took bodies and rubble out of the city after the January 12th earthquake, had the best-funded campaign but lacks mass support because of President Préval’s unpopularity among the population. 

He was a virtual unknown before the elections, and many voters had alleged that Préval’s Unity party would rig the vote to remain in power.

It is a position shared by the majority of the candidates who called for the poll to be annulled and fresh elections held, even before the first vote was finished. Martelly and Manigat were actually among that group but later changed their tunes. Martelly is now reverting to his original position.

He has indicated that he will challenge the results.

His campaign manager, Damian Merlo, told reporters: “The math says (it’s) an absolute fraud.”

US says results inconsistent with observations

In a statement released shortly after the announcement last night, the US Embassy in Port-au-Prince said the preliminary results were “inconsistent” with the published results of the National Election Observation Council, which had more than 5,500 observers and observed the vote count in 1,600 voting centres nationwide; Election Day observations by official US observers accredited by the CEP; and vote counts observed around the country by numerous domestic and international observers.

The US said it stands ready, together with Haiti’s international community partners, to support efforts to thoroughly review irregularities in support of electoral results that are consistent with what the Haitian people had expressed through their votes.

“Haiti’s transition to democracy over the past 24 years has seen many successes, overcoming major challenges. The 2010 elections represent a critical test of whether the Haitian people will determine their destiny through their vote,” it said. 

“The United States is committed to the consolidation of democracy in Haiti and calls on the Government of Haiti, the CEP and all political forces to ensure that the will of the people is fully reflected in the outcome of this election.”

The US also appealed for calm and said it was essential that all political stakeholders encourage their supporters to do the same.

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