Haitians Vote for Their New President in Atmosphere of Calm

By Dialogo
March 22, 2011

Almost five million Haitians voted to elect a president on 20 March, in a day without serious incidents but marked by the return of former president Jean Bertrand Aristide and by some irregularities at polling places.

Preliminary results of the balloting will be announced on 31 March, and definitive results are expected for 16 April.

“Democracy has triumphed, and allow me to salute the primary architect of this victory: the Haitian people,” said Gaillot Dorsinvil, the president of the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP), during the press conference that brought an end to the day of voting.

The 4.7 million voters were charged with designating the successor to the current president, René Préval.

The winner of the contest between Mirlande Manigat, a seventy-year-old academic and former first lady, and singer Michel Martelly, fifty years old, will have the task of rebuilding the poorest country in the Americas, devastated by a January 2010 earthquake that left 220,000 dead and by a cholera epidemic.

In a statement issued Sunday night, the UN mission in Haiti (Minustah) congratulated Haitians “for the patriotic spirit, calm, and discipline they demonstrated. The obvious enthusiasm of the voters shows the importance that the Haitian people ascribe to democracy.”

The voting marked the end of a long and turbulent electoral season that erupted in accusations of fraud and episodes of violence after the first round on 28 November.

According to the last poll before the election, published on Thursday, Martelly, better known as “Sweet Micky,” was the choice of 53.4% of those intending to vote, against 46.6% for Manigat. However, turnout, expected to be weak, made prediction difficult: only 23% of the 4.7 million eligible voters cast ballots in the first round.

In another development, the second round was complicated by the return after seven years of exile in South Africa of former president Jean Bertrand Aristide, very popular among poorer Haitians. Aristide, fifty-seven years old, who gave up power in 2004 under the threat of an armed insurrection and pressure from the United States and France, did not endorse either of the competing candidates.

Likewise, the return of former dictator Jean-Claude ‘Baby Doc’ Duvalier on 16 January, after twenty-five years of exile in France, had already complicated the political panorama.

Both in Port-au-Prince and in the rest of the country, most of the 11,000 polling places were guarded by 23,000 police officers and Minustah blue helmets.