PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – Facing international pressure, Haiti’s electoral council Thursday dropped the ruling party candidate from the presidential runoff, a move expected to ease tensions generated by the disputed first round of voting in November.
Election officials said the March 20 runoff would place Mirlande Manigat, a former first lady who received the most votes in the first round, against Michel Martelly, a popular singer known as Sweet Micky who was left out of the runoff when preliminary results were announced in December. At that time, the runoff was expected to pit Manigat against technocrat Jude Celestin, who was tapped by President Rene Preval.
But the latest decision by election officials, announced behind schedule and with little explanation after a tense overnight wait, excluded Celestin. The decision ended an extended appeals period and is considered final.
Martelly was already talking about his top priorities as president, and he thanked supporters who took part in the campaign.
“Victory today was not a gift,” he said Thursday afternoon in a news conference.
Calm prevailed in the capital, Port-au-Prince, despite concerns that unrest could greet whatever decision the panel made.
On Thursday, most people seemed relieved the city was back to its normal, clamorous pace.
“The streets are calm; there’s no disorder. People stayed home today because they are scared or they are satisfied,” said Marciel Pierre, 56, a roadside vendor.
Tensions over the November vote, marred by fraud and disarray, sparked violent protests when the preliminary tally put Celestin ahead of Martelly.