With official word that a popular singer and long-time opposition leader will face off in next month's presidential runoff, the attention turned Thursday to a major overhaul of Haiti's fraud-ridden election system.
Elections officials announced early Thursday that Michel ``Sweet Micky'' Martelly, 49, and former first lady Mirlande Manigat, 70, will head into a March 20 runoff. Martelly was chosen over government-backed candidate Jude Célestin, who was in second place after preliminary results.
The country remained relatively calm, but the news was met with mixed reaction. Critics accused the international community of using its ``tremendous power and influence'' to determine the outcome of the flawed vote, as Martelly and Manigat supporters celebrated.
Martelly held a news conference to promote his vision of a ``new Haiti,'' and Manigat hosted a meeting of supporters.
Célestin, who rebuffed pressure by his political coalition to withdraw from the race amid international pressure, did not comment on the election results.
``The Haitian people expressed that they want Michel Martelly,'' said Martelly, defending criticism that the United States and others helped secure his spot in the runoff. ``The victory today, it was not a gift. . . . I don't think [the international community] has decided the political fate of Haiti. I think that the support they have brought matches the Haitian people's will toward change. The people voted Manigat, Martelly.''
In all, elections officials deliberated 108 disputed results, including 105 for legislative races, also marred by fraud. As a result, some questioned whether Thursday's announcement will resolve the country's political crisis.
``It is not clear that a second round will bring stability to Haiti, let alone legitimacy to the new president,'' said Robert Fatton, a Haiti expert at the University of Virginia who has closely followed the crisis.
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