PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — Supporters of one of her competitors in Haiti’s presidential election set barricades on fire and threw rubble at cars when initial results put him third. The No. 2 finisher urged his partisans to mobilize and his staff warned they could start a war.
But during the turmoil since the preliminary vote count, Mirlande Manigat, the 70-year-old law professor and former first lady in first place, has kept her calm and stayed in the classroom and her stucco-walled office.
In an interview with The Associated Press on Monday, she blamed the discord on a “crisis of confidence” with Haiti’s electoral officials. She also defended her decision not to participate in a recount and said she is open to power-sharing agreements with other parties as a means of emerging from the crisis. “Now we are in a situation which has no relation whatsoever either with the constitution or to the electoral law,” Manigat said. “I would like to see my country heading for a true democracy, and I am personally concerned about the whole situation.”
Her supporters clashed with U.N. peacekeepers in two provincial cities between the dysfunctional Nov. 28 election and the much-critcized Dec. 7 announcement of results, throwing rocks and burning tires to demand she be declared the winner.
Since the vote tally the crisis has boiled down to a fight for second place – the other spot in a Jan. 16 runoff – between Jude Celestin, the candidate of Preval’s party, and Michel Martelly, a singer who trails him by 6,845 votes. Manigat, all but assured of going on to the next round, has stayed in the background.
That changed briefly when the provisional electoral council, or CEP, proposed creating a commission to recount the tally sheets. Manigat and Martelly declared they were opposed; only Celestin accepted. “Nobody trusts the CEP. Nobody in Haiti,” Manigat said Monday. “I cannot accept (the proposal) because there is no indication about the location, the rules, the membership, etc., etc.”
Now the electoral council has proposed a second, 72-hour appeals period through Wednesday in which candidates can legally contest the results. That new window was announced late Sunday by a coalition of nine international ambassadors as more protests were expected.
Haiti’s political stalemate comes as it wrestles with post-quake reconstruction, a cholera epidemic that has killed more than 2,100 and endemic crises of poverty and instability.
Manigat’s campaign has promised gradual change and long-term solutions. Her first priorities would be dealing with the cholera epidemic and finding ways to house the more than 1 million people still living under tarps and tents nearly a year after the earthquake.
And why does she want to win a contest where the prize is a country full of problems?
“I am a patriot. And I don’t like my country as it is now,” she said. “I am ready to face the coming situation. And I know that I will succeed.”