Hurry up and wait: Presidential results due on March 31

PORT-AU-PRINCE— Haitians wearied by long years of poverty, corruption and natural disasters are settling in for a wait to find out who they have elected to lead efforts to rebuild the earthquake-devastated capital, improve education and create some optimism for the future.

The choice faced by voters in the presidential election Sunday was between Mirlande Manigat, a longtime political fixture as a former first lady and senator, and Michel ``Sweet Micky'' Martelly, a popular singer who has never held public office.

Preliminary results are not expected until March 31.

Across Haiti, people stood in long, but mostly orderly lines at polling stations, some shrugging off delays of three hours.

``A lot of governments come through to make change for themselves and their families,'' Jean-Claude Henry, a 43-year-old economist, said after voting at a school in the Delmas section of Port-au-Prince, the capital. ``We want radical change for the population.''

Voting was much calmer than the election's first round in November, which was marred by disorganization, voter intimidation and allegations of widespread fraud. Disputed preliminary results had government-backed candidate Jude Celestin edging out Martelly for a spot in the runoff, but Haiti's electoral council reviewed the count under international pressure and eliminated Celestin from the race.

Whoever wins will face enormous challenges in a country emerging from last year's earthquake, which the government estimates killed more than 300,000 people. A multibillion-dollar reconstruction effort has stalled, and some 800,000 people still live in the camps that sprang up around Port-au-Prince after the quake.

Compounding the misery is a cholera outbreak that has killed more than 4,700 people and is expected to surge again with the rainy season.

``There is a lot of frustration,'' said 28-year-old Jazon Didier, a computer scientist and Manigat supporter. ``People want a change and a better life.''

Martelly seemed to have captured the ardor of young jobless voters. Hundreds cheered him wildly like the pop star he is as he danced on the roof of an SUV after casting his ballot across the street from a tent camp for people who lost homes in the earthquake.

Manigat, who touted her academic credentials and told voters to call her mother, appealed to the country's educated middle class, a sliver of the population in a largely poor nation of 10 million people.

Two recently returned ghosts from Haiti's past — former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and ex-dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier — formed part of the backdrop to the election, but there was no evidence that either had any effect on it.

Aristide returned to Haiti on Friday after seven years of exile in South Africa. The U.S. and others in the international community worried the popular but divisive figure could destabilize the election, but although he complained upon his arrival that his party had been excluded, he stayed out of sight Sunday.

Duvalier, the infamous dictator known as ``Baby Doc'' who was forced from the country in 1986, made a surprise return in January. He remains in Haiti but has laid low as a judge investigates whether criminal charges should be filed against him.

Sunday's voting was mostly quiet, but two clashes between rival political factions in rural areas left two people dead from gunshot wounds, Haitian police chief Mario Andresol said. Haiti's electoral council, which kept polling stations open an extra hour because of delays opening some of them, reported only scattered problems.

Martelly and Manigat offered similar agendas. They promised to build homes, foster economic growth and make education universal in a country where only half the children attend school. And both want to restore the military, which was dissolved by Aristide in 1995 after a long history of abuses.

But the candidates' backgrounds could not have been more distinct: Manigat is a 70-year-old university administrator and former senator; Martelly is a 50-year-old master of Haitian compas music who has no college degree and a history of crude onstage

``In the past, he wasn't a politician; he was an artist,'' said Beatrice Antonio, a 20-year-old Martelly supporter, eager to shrug off the past. ``He's young and maybe he has different ideas.''

It was precisely Martelly's lack of political background that appealed to 40-year-old truck driver Jean Robert Pierre.

``We don't need experience,'' said Pierre, who said in the past he was a supporter of Aristide, long a champion of the poor. ``We need someone who can work.''

Marlene Telusena, a 38-year-old nurse, wouldn't say who got her vote, but made it clear her priorities were in line with those of Manigat. Telusena said she wanted to see a change in the education system so more kids could attend school in Haiti and overseas.

``We need diligence and morality to return to Haiti, because the youth must be able to take this country seriously,'' Telusena said.
``We need competent leadership to achieve real change. I don't want to reveal my vote, but it's going to someone who is moral, experienced, and who the international community would consider serious.''

Associated Press writer Jacob Kushner contributed to this report.