PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) - The United Nations urged Haitians on Monday to calmly wait for the first results due next week of Sunday’s presidential run-off, saying the earthquake-battered nation’s democratic future was at stake.
Despite some scattered incidents of violence which killed at least two people, voting on Sunday went off generally peacefully in the Caribbean state, one of the world’s poorest, where elections are often marred by unrest.
The winding streets of Port-au-Prince, many still littered with the rubble of last year’s devastating earthquake, were calm on Monday. Brightly colored “tap-tap” minibuses ferried passengers to work and vendors carried wares on their heads or set up roadside stalls of food, clothes and consumer goods.
Official preliminary results from the run-off between singer Michel Martelly and former first lady Mirlande Manigat are due on March 31, with definitive results after resolution of any legal challenges to be announced on April 16.
The long wait for results has raised fears that impatience and early victory claims in the rival candidates’ camps could trigger street protests and clashes in the volatile country.
The most recent opinion polls had shown shaven-headed Martelly, 50, a political newcomer and star of Haiti’s Konpa carnival music who had campaigned on an energetic promise of change, leading by several percentage points over his more experienced rival Manigat, a 70-year-old law professor.
The U.N. peacekeeping mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) and foreign donors are anxious to avoid the chaos that marred the November 28 first round, which dissolved into fraud allegations and days of unrest that paralyzed the desperately poor country, which has also suffered a severe cholera epidemic.
Praising the mostly smooth vote on Sunday, MINUSTAH appealed to Manigat and Martelly’s camps and their supporters to show patience and restraint awaiting the results. “The future of the country is at stake,” it said in a statement.
Haiti’s top electoral officer, Gaillot Dorsinvil, called the run-off, the first time a presidential vote had gone to a second-round in the country, a “triumph of democracy”. He said there had been a big turnout, but gave no figures.
Some Haitians seemed cautiously hopeful this election might finally deliver the stable leadership and government they need to steer a post-earthquake reconstruction effort that is expected to require billions of dollars of foreign donor aid.
“We didn’t vote just for the sake of it, we voted so that things could get better for our children when they grow up,” said Darius Jean-Renaud as he boarded a minibus on Monday.
“I‘m glad there wasn’t any trouble yesterday and everyone took part,” he added.
Haiti’s Provisional Electoral Council has banned political demonstrations and victory projections by any candidates until the results are announced, and says it has obtained agreement from both Martelly and Manigat to adhere to this.
There was no apparent disruption either caused by the return to Haiti of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who came back on Friday from seven years in exile.
The United States and United Nations had opposed the return before Sunday of the charismatic left-wing populist, Haiti’s first freely-elected president who was ousted in a 2004 rebellion and still commands a big following in his homeland.
Washington had expressed concern that the return of such a political heavyweight could destabilize the election.
But Aristide, whose aides have said he will stay out of politics, kept out of sight at the weekend at his home in the capital and he has not openly endorsed any of the candidates.
Additional reporting by Santiago Limachi; Editing by Philip Barbara