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Singer Martelly tipped to win in Haiti

PORT-AU-PRINCE — Partial results suggested Monday that carnival singer Michel Martelly was on course for a landslide in quake-hit Haiti’s surprisingly peaceful presidential run-off election.

There had been fears Sunday’s polls, 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 in a Caribbean nation whose recent past has been scarred by dictatorship and upheaval was largely without incident.

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 such as 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.

Authorities said two people had been killed in election-related violence, but in most parts of Haiti the polls elections passed off calmly, winning the country plaudits from the international community.

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.

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

France described the polls as “satisfactory,” but urged candidates not to stir up trouble now 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 stage name “Sweet Micky,” the 50-year-old Martelly waged a slick campaign built on promises to dramatically transform Haiti’s elitist politics and drag the masses out of poverty.

The candidates are vying for the job of rebuilding a nation beset by problems, from endemic corruption 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 president in 1988 for a few months before being ousted by a coup.

Voting problems 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.

French sociologist Laenec Hurbon agreed with Fatton that any Martelly victory was more likely due to the perception of him as the change candidate than because people necessarily backed his right-leaning politics.

“If Martelly does it, it’s by default,” Hurbon, from the French National Center for Scientific Research, told AFP. “It’s a vote against Preval, against continuity. People are sick of a government seen as devoid of energy and lacking any ideas.”

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 Petionville, 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.


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