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Cholera Numbers Grow as Haitians Prepare for Presidential Vote

November 26, 2010 at 4:42 PM EDT
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Amid ongoing reconstruction after the deadly earthquake earlier this year and an ongoing cholera epidemic, Haitians head to the polls to vote on a new leader. NPR's Jason Beaubien reports from Port-au-Prince on the country's presidential election this weekend and the likelihood of a run-off.

JEFFREY BROWN: And now to Haiti, as it prepares to hold a presidential election Sunday, less than a year after the devastating earthquake and a month into a continuing cholera epidemic.

The campaigning, at times, has been boisterous and the crowds large. Billboards and posters compete for attention, as citizens have lined up to receive their voter identification cards. Some 18 candidates are running to replace President Rene Preval, who cannot seek reelection.

Widely seen as the three leading contenders, the ruling party’s nominee, Jude Celestin, a former first lady, Mirlande Manigat, and a popular musician, Michel Martelly. They and the others are vying to take office, even as the presidential palace in Port-au-Prince remains in ruin and the nation seeks a way out of its vast troubles.

Late this afternoon, I talked to reporter Jason Beaubien of National Public Radio in Port-au-Prince.

Jason Beaubien, thanks for joining us. I know you had noisy and dueling marches there today. Give us — set the scene for us on the eve of this election. What’s it like there?

JASON BEAUBIEN, NPR: Yes, it’s very clear that this campaign is coming — coming to an end. There have been large rallies. There have been sort of trucks going through the streets with big loudspeakers urging people to come out and support one candidate or another.

You have got 18 presidential candidates running. You’ve also got people running for lower offices. So, it has been somewhat festive. The city is sort of decorated with campaign posters. Everywhere you go, you are seeing campaign posters at the moment.

We’re — it’s clear that this — this campaign is coming to an end, and people are going to go to the polls on Sunday.

JEFFREY BROWN: We named the three leading candidates. Can you give us a sense of who they are appealing to you and how they are doing it?

JASON BEAUBIEN: Certainly, Michel Martelly, Sweet Micky, the popular Haitian musician, he is very much appealing to the young people. He is having rallies where huge numbers of young people are coming out. He is dancing. He is singing.

And he’s also calling on them to support his campaign as a campaign of change. He hasn’t been a politician before. So, he’s really trying to get the young people behind him. And he seems to be doing that.

Jude Celestin is the head of the national construction company. He is also trying to get the young people behind him. And, in part, this is because Haiti is a very young country. The majority of the people are — are young here. And, so, people are really trying to pull them in.

Mirlande Manigat, she’s a former first lady. She is very much the — sort of the serious candidate, saying that she is 70 years old, she’s the dean of a university, and saying that she would be the responsible one, the one who could — can guide Haiti through this incredibly tough period that is going to be coming, as they really try to get going on the recovery from this earthquake.

JEFFREY BROWN: And with all the problems there and, of course, now the — particularly the cholera situation, I know there had been some talk or some calls for delaying this election. But I gather officials there, including the international community, decided it was better to go ahead?

JASON BEAUBIEN: Yes. There have been calls by some of the actual candidates. Some of the presidential candidates themselves have called for this election to be postponed.

But the international community has said no. They’re saying that this is the time to do it, that postponing it would open it up to people thinking that maybe that is a politically motivated move, that they are trying to do that to push some candidates out, some candidates that have momentum right now.

So, the U.N. chief here, he said, if we don’t do it now, who knows what kind of problems Haiti might be facing in six months or a year, and it’s better to get this transition and move on to a new administration that can tackle the incredibly huge task of rebuilding this country.

JEFFREY BROWN: And give us a brief update on the cholera situation. What — what — how do you see it playing out? How fearful are people? And does it have any potential impact on the election results?

JASON BEAUBIEN: It’s amazing. When you go out and talk to people — like, I was talking to people in some of these camps just today — very afraid of this disease. It is something they haven’t had here before. People know that it can kill them, it can kill them quickly. So, there is a lot of terror out there.

At the same time, the international community and aid groups are attempting to get out and set up cholera treatment facilities around the country, so that — so that people can actually get treatment.

I went to a camp just this afternoon. They were saying that the numbers of people coming continues to grow every day. It was 10 at first. Then it was 20. Now it’s up to 50 people a day coming in, seeking treatment.

And so it is certain — it is clear that the situation is getting worse. And experts are saying they expect it to get worse before it gets better.

JEFFREY BROWN: And, finally, just back to the election, I gather, if there’s no — if nobody gets a majority of 50 percent or more, then there is a runoff, right? Is that the expectation at this point?

JASON BEAUBIEN: That’s very much the expectation at this point.

As I said, you have got 18 people in this race. Nobody has sort of emerged as the clear leader in this field. So, there is expected to be a runoff. That would happen on January 16. Again, the problem with that is that it’s just going to drag this out even longer.

JEFFREY BROWN: Jason Beaubien of NPR in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, thanks so much.

JASON BEAUBIEN: You’re welcome.