Tuesday, December 14, 2010



PORT-AU-PRINCE — 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."

Manigat is not new to the dirty business of Haitian politics. Her husband, Leslie Manigat, was elected in a criticized 1988 election under a military junta that quickly ousted him in a coup. She won a Senate seat in 2006 but resigned in protest when her husband was denied a run-off in a compromise favoring now-President Rene Preval.

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."

She was also put off by the way she was invited — by e-mail received over her faulty Internet connection at 5 a.m.

"I did not even answer, because for me it was a very bad way to communicate to someone who is a candidate or supposedly might become the next president of Haiti," she said.

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.

The election cost $29 million — including $14 million provided by the United States — and ambassadors have told Manigat they are not interested in paying for a do-over.

"The Haitians are not enjoying a kind of autonomy with regard to the present situation. It's a matter of relation of force: economic force, political force," she said. "If ever I was president of Haiti before that I would not find myself in this present situation."

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.

Seated behind a heavy wooden desk in front of a Haitian flag, Manigat said she believes an agreement between her Assembly of Progressive National Democrats and another party would be essential to resolving the crisis.

She said she is open to a pact with Celestin or Martelly supporters, though not necessarily the men themselves. She called Martelly, a carnival singer known as "Sweet Micky," an "intelligent man" — though she conceded his is "not my type of music, you know."

"It is true he is enjoying a popularity precisely among the young people. And for me, political scientist apart from being a candidate, that is a case study," she added with a grin.

As for Celestin, head of the state-run construction company before being plucked from obscurity to represent Preval's new Unity party, she said: "It is better not to base an opinion about what people are saying. I don't know him. That's all."

Manigat's professorial voice rises with one thought before plunging into a growl with the next, punctuating words like "IF" and "NOW" as paragraphs unto themselves.

She poses questions to herself: "What was the situation at that moment?" she asks, referring to her election day decision to join 11 other candidates in calling for the vote to be invalidated. "We had every evidence that something was going on, either in order to declare that Jude Celestin was elected on the first ballot or to block the elections," she answers.

So why did she change her mind the next day and call for counting to continue? Her supporters saw she had a chance to win and demanded it, she said. Yes, the head of the U.N. peacekeeping mission called twice and met with her to encourage her to stay in. No, he did not influence her decision.

"I am not someone who changes easily her mind. I have strong principles, but as a political scientist I know that sometimes ... a situation arises which can lead you to change your mind," Manigat said.

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."

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