Michel 'Sweet Micky' Martelly advances in Haiti election over president's pick

Amid pressure from international observers, Haiti's election commission advanced singer Michel 'Sweet Micky' Martelly into a runoff vote for the presidency against former First Lady Mirlande Manigat.

By , Correspondent

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    People watch Haiti's Electoral Council spokesman Richard Dumel announcing on TV the presidential candidates who will continue to second round elections, Michel Martelly and Mirlande Manigat, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, early Thursday Feb. 3.
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Singer Michel “Sweet Micky” Martelly is in. Government party candidate Jude Célestin is out.

The months-overdue announcement Thursday morning from Haiti's Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) about who will advance to an election runoff for the presidency broke an electoral impasse that had gripped the country since Nov. 28, when Haitians went to polls in the first-round of voting.

But election observers caution that the road ahead still looks rocky.

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"I'm not confident that just finalizing the results from the first round will bring stability to the country," says Robert Fatton, a University of Virginia professor who studies Haiti. "The first round was clearly fraudulent. What's to say that the second round will be any better?"

Mr. Martelly and former First Lady Mirlande Manigat will now face off in second-round presidential voting on March 20.

Allegations of vote fraud

The announcement comes during a complex period in Haiti’s post-earthquake political landscape that began with the disputed first-round vote. That day of voting ended in violent demonstrations in Port-au-Prince after 12 of the 19 presidential candidates – including Martelly and Ms. Manigat – called for the election to be annulled due to fraud.

Initial poll results from the CEP had placed Mr. Célestin, who was endorsed by President René Préval, ahead of Martelly by a margin of less than 1 percent of the vote, with Ms. Manigat firmly in the lead.

A team from the Organization of American States (OAS) analyzed a sample of ballots and suggested Martelly, not Célestin, compete in the run-off election.

The OAS findings were backed by the international community and pushed by the US. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton flew to Haiti on Sunday to urge Mr. Préval and the candidates to accept the report’s findings. President Préval had initially balked at the OAS recommendation, but under international pressure, his INITE (Unity) party released a statement last week urging Célestin to step aside.

'Sweet Micky' has popular support

Martelly, known as “Sweet Micky,” was a colorful kompas musician before turning to politics. His profile as a singer won him support in Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s toppled capital. He also received an endorsement from Pras Michel, a Haitian rapper and former member of band The Fugees with Wyclef Jean, who also sought to run for the presidency.

Stevenson Lafond, a 27-year-old voter, recently told the Monitor that he wanted to see a new face in office. “’Sweet Micky’ isn’t a politician. He comes from outside politics and we’ve had enough politicians as president. They haven’t done much for us," he says. "Why not give someone from outside a chance?”

That sentiment may play against former First Lady Manigat. A respected career academic, Ms. Manigat “may have a difficult time as president because she does not have a real base in Haitian politics, including in parliament,” says Yves Colon, a Haitian-born professor at the University of Miami.

“Martelly can probably produce more people, more of a base than Manigat, but it’s going to be difficult for either of them because INITE [Préval’s political party] will still be powerful,” Professor Colon says.

Calls for election results to be annulled

A steady, but often ignored, drumbeat calling for the election to be canceled and held anew has persisted.

Last month, the Center for Economic and Policy Research, a left-leaning think tank in Washington, said its own analysis found "it was not possible to name the top two vote getters" and "suggested holding the election anew."

On Tuesday, the US Congressional Black Caucus released a statement urging “the United States and the international community to uphold the ideals of fairness and support a new Haiti election process that is free and fair, respecting the rights of the Haitian people.”

Baby Doc and Aristide

Amid the tension around the elections, former dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier shocked the country when he returned from exile in France last month. Mr. Duvalier, who says he returned to help the Haitian people, now faces charges ranging from corruption to torture dating to his rule of Haiti from 1971 to 1986.

Duvalier’s return sparked rumors that former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide would attempt to follow suit. That’s exactly what’s happened. Mr. Aristide, who fled after an uprising in 2004 and has been living in South Africa, applied for a diplomatic passport to return to the earthquake-torn country.

In a letter, his Miami-based attorney Ira Kurtzban asked the Foreign Affairs and Interior ministries to expedite the passport and for Haiti to begin talks with South Africa to facilitate Aristide’s return.

Haitian authorities said they would process the passport request, potentially opening the door for Aristide’s eventual return.

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