Singer Michel Martelly wins Haiti presidency

Michel Martelly, a popular singer making his first foray into Haitian electoral politics, rolled to a commanding victory in last month's presidential runoff, according to preliminary results issued Monday.

Martelly, 50, easily defeated Mirlande Manigat, a university administrator and former first lady, winning by more than 2 to 1, according to Haiti's Provisional Electoral Council.

Martelly was ahead in polls leading up to the March 20 runoff and appeared to have dominated balloting, at least in the capital, Port-au-Prince, based on election day interviews with voters.

The count announced Monday is considered preliminary to allow for appeals before a final outcome is made official April 16.

The runoff, like the first round of voting in November, appeared marred by fraud, with thousands of tally sheets requiring extra scrutiny because of irregularities. Foreign election observers said more than 1,700 sheets had to be tossed aside.

Given the latest messy outcome, it was unclear whether the announced results would stir trouble in a nation with a history of election-related unrest.

After the results were made public, the streets in Port-au-Prince erupted in noisy celebration by Martelly supporters, who waved posters and flags and shouted "Change!" in Creole.

Martelly thanked voters in a brief statement on his Twitter account: "We'll work for all Haitians. Together we can do it."

Although preelection polls gave Martelly an edge, the race had been considered closer than the outcome. His base of strength was Port-au-Prince, while Manigat counted on a strong showing in the northern part of the country.

On Monday, business went on as usual in Port-au-Prince as residents awaited the announcement.

"They'll give us the good results," said Georges Ismarie, a 59-year-old welder who supported Martelly. "If not we'll burn the whole country. [The electoral commission] knows that, and that the whole country voted Martelly."

In December, Martelly supporters took to the streets for days after results from the Nov. 28 vote appeared to leave him out of the runoff in third place. But under international pressure, Haitian election officials dropped the ruling-party candidate, Jude Celestin, and added Martelly to the runoff after an examination of the results by foreign experts found that fraud probably gave Celestin the edge.

The next president will confront a towering list of problems, including how to rebuild from last year's devastating earthquake and lift Haiti from deep and long-standing poverty. Those tasks will be complicated by the fact that the Parliament will be controlled by the party of outgoing President Rene Preval.

Martelly, a singer of Haitian kompa music known for his bawdy stage performances, ran as a populist outsider. He enjoyed near-rock-star status but was dogged by worries that he lacked experience to be president.

"It's a pink day in Haiti," declared Richard Morse, a hotel owner and cousin of Martelly, referring to the vivid pink tone that became the campaign's trademark color. Morse, a well-known Port-au-Prince fixture, frequently accompanied Martelly on campaign events.

Manigat, 70, whose husband was briefly president during the 1980s, portrayed herself as a steady, maternal figure for a nation struggling to solve overlapping crises. But many Haitians also saw her as a symbol of an insular political class that over the years had failed to solve Haiti's monumental problems.

The problem-riddled first round prompted efforts by Haitian and foreign electoral specialists to improve voting and counting during the runoff. Balloting during the second round was much smoother, though Haitian election officials said last week that they detected a "high level of fraud and irregularities." The U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince said fraud this time was "isolated and reduced" compared with the first round.

More than 15,000 tally sheets, or about 60% of the total, had to be examined by lawyers, according to an observer mission led by the Organization of American States and the Caribbean Community.

Special correspondent Gaestel reported from Port-au-Prince and Times staff writer Ellingwood from Mexico City.

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