PORT-AU-PRINCE: 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.
On Tuesday night, the Electoral Provisional Council (CEP) announced that law professor and former first lady Mirlande Marigat, 70, got the most votes – 31.37 per cent – followed by Preval’s 48-year-old protégé Jude Celestin with 22.48 per cent.
Angry supporters of eliminated candidates, including popular musician Michel Martelly, who was widely expected to be in the run-off, burned tires, set up barricades and threw bottles and rocks after the announcement.
Gunshots rang out in the Delmas district in the capital during the riots. As of press time, there have been no reports of fatalities.
Marigat and Celestin will face off in a run-off vote on January 16 since none of the 19 candidates received the needed minimum 50 per cent of the vote to win the November 28 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.
Celestin had the best-funded campaign but lacks mass support because of 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 stance. Martelly is now reverting to his original position and has indicated he will challenge the results.
In a statement released shortly after the preliminary election results were announced, the U.S. 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 U.S. observers accredited by the CEP; and vote counts observed around the country by numerous domestic and international observers.
The U.S. 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,” said a statement from the U.S. “The 2010 elections represent a critical test of whether the Haitian people will determine their destiny through their vote.”
“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 U.S. also appealed for calm and said it was essential that all political stakeholders encourage their supporters to do the same.