PORT-AU-PRINCE Jude Celestin, outgoing President Rene Preval's hand-picked successor, took second place in the first round of Haiti's presidential elections on November 28, electoral authorities said on Tuesday.
But the top vote-getter, former first lady Mirlande Manigat, failed to win more than 50 percent of the votes needed for an outright victory so Celestin qualified for a run-off against her provisionally set for January 16.
-- A 48-year-old engineer and government technocrat, Celestin has the advantage of being the candidate of Preval's ruling Inite (Unity) coalition, which has given his campaign access to state-level support. His first round campaign was clearly well-funded, and in the capital at least won the contest of election posters -- Celestin's mustachioed face appearing against the green-and-yellow background of Inite colors predominated in the rubble-strewn streets of Port-au-Prince.
But there were signs his association with Preval, and his message of continuity, may have hurt his image.
Preval, who cannot stand for re-election after serving two terms in office, has faced widespread criticism for his low-key response to the January 12 earthquake and the current cholera crisis.
Celestin has promised to provide the country with technical schools and create jobs.
-- Although recognized as a hard-working technocrat, Celestin is nevertheless a political newcomer.
Preval's coalition picked him as its formal candidate in an apparent strategy to appeal to the younger voters after it dropped its original choice -- 63-year-old former two-time prime minister Jacques-Edouard Alexis, who went on to run as a contender for another party.
Nevertheless, with the help of the Inite party machinery and funding, Celestin's rallies have been well-organized and drawn crowds wearing the green and yellow party colors.
His own campaigning style has been relatively low key -- he told one foreign reporter he was "not a man of the media."
-- His leadership of the National Equipment Center (CNE), the main state construction company in Haiti which has built rural roads in recent years, gave him some visibility during the immediate rescue and debris-clearing after the January earthquake, although many have criticized the government recovery activities as slow and ineffective.
His backers have trumpeted his CNE experience as a concrete example of just what Haiti -- and its donor partners offering billions of dollars of reconstruction funds -- needs to rebuild after the devastating quake.
Critics accused Celestin and his campaign of shamelessly using state funds to promote his candidacy.
-- Born in Port-au-Prince in 1962, Celestin was educated in Haiti and studied mechanical engineering in Switzerland, according to his official biography. He is a divorced father.
(Writing by Pascal Fletcher; editing by Mohammad Zargham)