Haiti to Hold Second Round of Elections Sunday

 March 18, 2011

Photo: AP
A man walks past a corrugated fence covered with election posters in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Mar 16 2011

After a grueling campaign, Haiti's two second round presidential candidates are making their final push toward Sunday's vote with concerts in Port-Au-Prince.

Scholar and former first lady Mirlande Manigat has worked to project an image of competence. She wants to strengthen government institutions and alleviate poverty. She also wants education reform.

Haiti to Hold Second Round of Elections Sunday
Haiti's presidential candidate and former first lady Mirlande Manigat smiles after a press conference in Port-au-Prince, Mar 14 2011

Favored by the political and intellectual class, she has also campaigned heavily in poor neighborhoods where she has won some support.

Thirty-one-year-old artist Jean Marc Victor says he supports Manigat.

"The reason I am for her is because she is an intellectual. I went to school, I went to university, and I do not believe in Micky because he does not have the formal education to be president of the country," said Victor.

Michel "Sweet Micky" Martelly is a popular Haitian musician known for his wild antics on stage. He has worked hard to change that image, and competed well in debates against seasoned opponents. He calls himself an agent for social change and has put forward a plan for free education and access to healthcare for all citizens.

He has won support from all segments of society, including the poor, young entrepreneurs, and the upper class.

Thirty-eight-year-old brick layer Evner Jerome explains why Martelly will get his vote.

Haiti's presidential candidate Michel Martelly poses for a photo with supporters at a campaign rally in Gonaives,  Mar 11 2011
Haiti's presidential candidate Michel Martelly poses for a photo with supporters at a campaign rally in Gonaives, Mar 11 2011

"Whenever there is a problem you never saw Madam Manigat," said Jerome. "Whenever there was a problem, a natural disaster or whatever, you would always see Micky around trying to help the people. Micky is new to politics, Madam Manigat is the old politics."

Haiti is at a critical juncture. International donors are waiting for a new government before they release billions of dollars in aid to rebuild the country. Analysts believe the chances are good one of the candidates will receive the required 50 percent of the vote to validate the election.

Political analyst Jean Robert Simonise acknowledges anything could happen on election day. He says the deciding factor will be which segment of the population turns out to vote. He adds the demographic numbers favor Michel Martelly.

"It is clear the ratio is seventy percent to thirty percent for Martelly," said Simonise.

The election had run smoothly until this week, when Martelly supporters threw stones at Mirlande Manigat at a rally in the town of Mirbalais. A musician on stage was injured, and in Port-de-Paix, a campaign worker was murdered. Furious at the violence Mirlande called a news conference in Port-au-Prince. She blamed Martelly's supporters.

"The rising wave of violence lets say, not shakes my confidence completely, but calls my attention and I suppose the attention of the observers, national or foreign observers on the possibility, I am not talking about probability, but possibility of violence, not only on the day of the election but on the eve," Manigat said.

There was no response from Michel Martelly.

There were numerous allegations of voter intimidation and fraud in the first round. Officials at the headquarters of the National Election Committee say they have made many changes. Richardson Dumel is the spokesperson for the National Election Committee.

"The difference this time is different personnel. The candidates have chosen different people this time around to supervise the election," said Dumel. "Certain security measures have been changed. And we have put more emphasis on the training of supervisors at poling stations."

Analysts say the next Haitian president will have a lot of opportunities to bring change. But they will be entering a difficult political time. The country is still in ruins, expectations are high, and there are many obstacles to progress.