Popular singer Michel Martelly greets supporters a day after preliminary… (Hector Retamal, AFP/Getty…)
Reporting from Port-au-Prince, Haiti — Michel Martelly, the popular singer turned improbable candidate, was all but assured of becoming Haiti's next president Tuesday after his opponent's camp appeared to rule out challenging vote tallies issued a day earlier.
Martelly, who ran as an outsider trumpeting change, sounded triumphant in his first public comments since preliminary results showed him easily defeating Mirlande Manigat, a university executive and former first lady.
"You have chosen to break with our old quarrels, our artificial divisions, the prevailing negativity," Martelly told Haitians from the stage at a restaurant in Petionville, a wealthy suburb in the hills above the capital, Port-au-Prince. His name was emblazoned on the backdrop.
"You wanted change, you voted change, change in our political practices, in our economic choices and in our social organization," Martelly said.
On Monday, the country's Provisional Electoral Council announced that Martelly, 50, had defeated Manigat by more than 2 to 1 in the March 20 vote. Results are preliminary to allow for appeals before the final outcome is announced April 16.
Jean-Junior Joseph, communications advisor for the Manigat campaign, said she would not contest the results.
Nonetheless, Manigat, who led all 19 candidates in the first round of voting in November, sounded bitter as she discussed the results from a cramped campaign office. Frayed posters hung limp over the door.
Manigat, 70, said she was unhappy at how campaign played out, calling the election "a mafia-like operation." She spoke of her "profound worry for the future of our country."
The campaign was a bruising affair, with Martelly gaining a spot on the runoff ballot against Manigat only after foreign experts said widespread fraud in the first round had denied him the second spot. The ruling party's candidate, Jude Celestin, was bumped from the runoff to allow Martelly a place.
Martelly and Manigat traded increasingly bitter barbs as the race neared the finish.
But the runoff vote and its aftermath proved largely peaceful — itself a breakthrough for Haiti, which has often seen contested results and election-related violence.
Although only 25% of registered voters took part — a slim improvement over the first round — the international community lauded the relative calm.
A statement from the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince called the announcement of the results "an important milestone," and the foreign observer mission congratulated Haitian authorities for following electoral law and the country's constitution.
Amid the reveling, some Martelly backers expressed hope that their candidate wouldn't let them down.
"The people are happy," said Jackson Sincere, a taxi driver. "Now we'll see what comes of his program, and if he can do what he says."
Though Martelly moved many Haitians during the campaign with blunt talk and promises of change, he will take the reins of a country facing crippling problems.
Reconstruction from last year's devastating earthquake has barely begun. Hundreds of thousands of people still live in leaky tents as another rainy season approaches. A massive cholera epidemic that has killed more than 4,700 people in recent months is expected to flare again.
Unemployment is rampant, high fuel and food prices strain an impoverished population, and Martelly will be dealing with a Parliament dominated by opposition members.
Gaestel is a special correspondent.