PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Leslie F. Manigat, winner of the flawed presidential election here, earned an international reputation and the admiration of most Haitian intellectuals as an exponent of democracy in 23 years of exile during the Duvalier family dictatorship.
A year ago, many thought he would be the perfect choice as Haiti's first democratically elected president. But attitudes have changed toward Manigat, 57, the barrel-shaped, gravel-voiced political scientist who, according to the military-led government, won the Jan. 17 election.
He has been so battered by the charges of former admirers--they say he sold out to the military rulers and that the election was rigged--that he now sees himself as occupying "an embattled presidency from the start."
In a series of interviews before and after the election, which was flawed by numerous irregularities and boycotted by a majority of the voters, Manigat acknowledged that the low voter turnout means "a political problem, a perception of weakness for the new government."
He also conceded that he faces a major problem in taking command of the government from Lt. Gen. Henri Namphy and other military officers who have been ruling the country since Jean-Claude (Baby Doc) Duvalier fled Haiti in February, 1986, ending the Duvalier family dictatorship. Few Haitian political leaders, other than Manigat, believe the officers want to surrender power.
Yet Manigat insisted that if he is allowed to govern for three to six months, he will not only establish himself as an independent president but will win popular support by vigorously attacking the country's problems and regaining the support of skeptical foreign governments.
He said that before his scheduled inauguration on Feb. 7, he will invite his political opponents to join his government. Four leading political figures who were considered front-runners in an aborted attempt at a free election last Nov. 29 have branded Manigat's electoral victory as "grotesque," a "fraud" and a "masquerade." The United States and other countries have criticized the voting as neither free nor fair.
"Personally I consider them my friends," Manigat said of the four--Marc Bazin, Gerard Gourgue, Louis Dejoie II and Sylvio Claude--all of whom boycotted the election. Manigat has known Gourgue, Dejoie and Bazin since childhood. He studied with Bazin and Gourgue at the University of Paris in the late 1940s and early 1950s.
"If they lend themselves to compromise, I'm willing to compromise," he said. "It is my intention, my determination."
The top priority, he said, is "to put people to work, to tackle the problem of jobs." An estimated 50% of Haitians are unemployed. The economy, the poorest in the hemisphere, has declined even further since most U.S. economic aid was cut off as a protest against the Namphy government's failure to prevent the violence that derailed the election in November.
Manigat said that in the first few months of his government, his performance in moving toward solutions to Haiti's staggering problems should reassure foreign governments enough to win back their aid programs. Without foreign aid, he conceded, the task will be all but impossible.
As for the army, which opposition leaders believe is using Manigat as a front for continued military domination, the ebullient president-elect said he will take a pragmatic approach.
"How can you hope to govern this country without dealing with the army?" he said before the election. "How can you solve the country's problems without having a dialogue with the army? It is a necessity, a political reality."
After the vote, Manigat exuded assurance that the military would let him rule without interference.
Manigat's second wife, Mirlande Hippolyte, 47, a Paris-educated political scientist, is also in politics. The former student of Manigat has been elected to the Senate. She shared his exile in France and Venezuela and collaborated on some of his five major books. The Manigats have a 16-year-old daughter. He has six daughters from his first marriage.