In Haiti, Next President Faces Massive Reconstruction Effort

BY Larisa Epatko  March 22, 2011 at 4:01 PM EST


Election workers count ballots in Port-au-Prince, Haiti (Lee Celano/Getty Images)

In a matter of days, Haitians will learn if a pop singer or former first lady is their next president when results from Sunday’s run-off vote are tallied. Either way, the incoming president faces the massive undertaking of rebuilding Haiti after an earthquake struck the impoverished island last year.

Preliminary results in the presidential race between entertainer Michel Martelly, a.k.a. “Sweet Micky,” and opposition leader and law professor Mirlande Manigat are due by March 31, and the final results by April 16. The runoff also included 76 legislative seats.

International election monitors said the runoff went relatively smoothly, despite some reports of polling stations opening late and missing ballot boxes.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon congratulated Haitians on a successful vote.

The U.N. mission in Haiti, known as MINUSTAH, urged “patience and restraint” on the candidates’ supporters while they await the results.

Violence broke out after results from the Nov. 28 first-round vote showed Manigat and Jude Celestin — the candidate of outgoing President Rene Preval’s party — as the top two vote-getters, with Martelly coming in a close third. Martelly’s supporters took to the streets in demonstrations, setting barricades on fire. A re-examination of votes in response to allegations of fraud put Martelly in second place and in the runoff instead.

“Right now, there’s a lot of pessimism in Haiti and the sense that neither of these candidates is ideal to run the country,” said Joel Dreyfuss, a Haitian-American and managing editor of the news website TheRoot.com.

They both lack the managerial experience necessary to guide the country’s reconstruction after an earthquake last year leveled much of the capital Port-au-Prince and other outerlying areas, according to Dreyfuss.

“You’re talking about rebuilding a whole capital city” in addition to addressing basic infrastructure needs for water and transportation, he said. “The question is who will they put on their team and who will they allow to do the job.”

Even though they weren’t candidates, the return of two former deposed leaders to the Caribbean nation attracted as much media attention: Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier in January after a 25-year exile, and Jean-Bertrand Aristide last week after seven years in exile in South Africa.

Once former dictator Duvalier was allowed back, it would have been hard to say no to Aristide, said Dreyfuss. Though barred from running for president again — in Haiti, terms are limited to two in a lifetime — he could re-enter politics in other ways.

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