Haiti – The race to the Presidency winds down

The Provisional Electoral Centre of Haiti on Tuesday night announced that former first lady Mirlande Manigat and Jude Celestin the protégé of outgoing President Rene Preval are the presidential hopefuls going through to the second round run-off tentatively set for January 16th 2011.

This announcement made 11-days after controversial elections, which caused at least one death due to election violence, could see the dawning of a new era for Haiti.

Current front-runner Madam Manigat, though she didn’t get the required 51% of the votes to win the election outright, has put some distance, between herself and her closest rival who has turned out to be Jude Celestin.

In Tuesday night’s announcement, Madam Manigat was said to have received 31.37% of the votes while Celestin received 22.48%. Musician, Michel Martelly who appeared to have been the campaign favorite, came in closely on the heels of Celestin with 21.84% of the votes.

In this politically unstable country Martelly supporters have already begun to stage street protests maintaining that the election was rigged by outgoing President Rene Preval .

Martelly was one of the very vocal opposition candidates, who claimed there were major election irregularities on polling day, and demanded that the process be stopped. 48-year-old Celestin was one of the five candidates who did not sign the declaration to stop the election. Many Haitians are wary of his alleged matrimonial connections with the despised Rene Preval. They have said that his getting into the second round runoff is indicative of Preval and the ruling Inite Party’s attempts to rig the elections and maintain control of the country.

On the streets many questioned the source of his campaign funds as he appeared to be spending far more than the other candidates on campaign parties and material.

One man living in the tents in Haiti’s capital, Carlos Jean Charles said he is not convinced the ruling Party’s candidate cares about the people of Haiti.

“Rene Preval and them (his party) they don’t care about us. They make money only for themselves. They are like devils.  That’s why people everywhere protest against them – against his  power.”

Celestin throughout the two months of campaigning, declined all requests from the media for interviews.

Mirlande Manigat, also claimed irregularities. She went on international television and called for voting to stop – a call that went unheard by the country’s Electoral Office.

But after appearing on stage at a press conference with eleven other opposition candidates, Manigat later declared that she did not hold the same position that they did.

Madam Manigat said she was ‘furious’ when she heard her name being called as one of the persons signing the declaration to stop the voting process.

“I didn’t endorse them, I made my own statement. They put my name on the declaration but it was a mistake….because I asked them not to do that.”

“I was absolutely astonished to hear that they have kept my name and I was furious.”

Now being the Presidential frontrunner in Haiti, Manigat says she is not worried about her ruler-ship being hurt by what is now being described as her premature calls for the voting to be stopped.

She says the people of Haiti believe in her and her ability to give Haiti a new and improved profile in the eyes of the world.

 “According to everything that I have tried to sell during the election campaign, about the necessity to change the country to put the country back on the track of legality, on the track of development, on the track of morality, they (her supporters) say that opens for them a large vision of what Haiti could be if ever I am elected.”

The seventy year old Law Professor said should she become the president her first order of business would be to tackle the problem of cholera. The epidemic which many believe was imported, a belief that is now being substantiated by a report from an independent French Epidemiologist, has claimed over 2,000 lives in Haiti and has infected over 90,000.

Manigat said medical officials told her that the worse is yet to come and that the situation could peak within the next few months.

“But I spoke a lot with physicians, with epidemiologists and they assured me that what they call the peak has not been reached yet. It will be reached maybe in two to three months, after that we will witness a decrease in the numbers of persons affected and of the deaths.”

“So we have to tackle the immediate problem which is clinical, which is medical, but we have to also deal with the basic causes of cholera which is the water in Haiti. The water problem is a political problem.”

In Port-au-Prince and its Suburbs, only 40% of the people have access to running water and in the entire country only 20%.

Manigat said this has to change. She said there is enough water in the country to sustain the agricultural industry and for development. What she said is the chronic problem is the lack of proper institutional and legislative structures to harness and adequately distribute the water.

She said she plans to change that.

Her second priority she said would be to deal with the issue of housing for the people displaced by the earthquake. Manigat didn’t go into details as to what she would do to find or build homes for the over 2 million people in Port-au-Prince living in ‘tent cities’ but she said that is of grave concern to her and she plans to address it.

The people in the ‘tent cities’ are hopeful for change. They told Best Media that they are disenchanted with the current administration of Rene Preval and are not supportive of his candidate, Jude Celestin.

They said his lack of concern for them became more pronounced, when after living in the tents on the compound of the Prime Minister’s office for over ten months they have not been visited once by him not have adequate arrangements been made to provide them with food and medical supplies.

“I have nine kids and they can’t go to school because I can’t feed them,” said one man.

“I live in the tents, I want a President who would help make change,” said another.

An elderly gentleman said, “I want a President who would stand up in front of people and country lead them. We had earthquake and no President stand up. No President to lead.”

 A second round of voting has to take place to determine who will be the next elected president of this troubled French Caribbean island – Haiti. ©

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