Nearly 10 days after Haitians overcame the rubble of destruction and the threat of cholera to go to the polls and choose a president from among 19 candidates, the country's election commission announced Tuesday that Mirlande Manigat, a 70-year-old law professor and former first lady, and Jude Célestin, a candidate supported by outgoing President René Préval, will face off in January in a second round. Still struggling with the devastation of the Jan. 12 earthquake and a spreading cholera epidemic that has taken 2,100 lives, Haiti was tense Tuesday night out of fear that supporters of losing candidates would turn to violence.
UPDATE: After the results were announced Tuesday night, demonstrations broke out throughout the country among those unhappy with the results. Haitian radio stations reported that protest groups blocked streets with barricades of burning tires. Police were reported to have fired shots over the heads of protesters. Haitians who supported losing candidates told radio reporter that the results had ben rigged.
The election commission reported that Mrs. Manigat had won 31.37 percent of the first round vote, Célestin had garnered 22.48 percent, and Michel Martelly, a popular musician known as Sweet Micky, had come in a close third with 21.84 percent. According to the Haitian constitution, if no candidate wins at least 50 percent of the vote, the top two vote-getters will face off in a second round. The second round is tentatively scheduled for January 16.
Early reports from Haiti said that thousands had taken to the streets, and many stores and offices had closed from fear of violence. Martelly had said that his supporters would take to the streets if Célestin was declared the winner or if Martelly failed to advance to the second round. Last Sunday, when there were a number of reports of fraud and violence at polling places, Manigat and Martelly joined 10 other candidates to call for the cancellation of the election results. They reversed course a couple of days later when news leaked that they might be leading in the count.
Many Haitians, at home and abroad, have questioned the wisdom of scheduling a major election so soon after a major disaster. In addition the election commission excluded the Lavalas movement of exiled ex-president Jean-Bertrand Aristide. The international community has pressed for a legitimately elected government to guide the country in a reconstruction process that has barely started.