Public Unrest Follows Haiti Elections

Haiti's electoral board has announced a run-off in the country’s contentious presidential election. The ruling comes nine days after the vote, which was fraught with accusations of widespread voter fraud and irregularities, and followed by protests. Host Michel Martin speaks with Associated Press correspondent Jonathan Katz in the capital, Port-au-Prince, for the latest on the poll and the public unrest surrounding it.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

Next, we want to check in on a couple of international stories that are making headlines. In a few minutes, we'll find out about the political deadlock taking place in the Ivory Coast, on the west coast of Africa, where there are two presidential candidates. Each candidate has declared himself president and neither is standing down.

But, first, to Haiti, where the results of the election held November 28th were just announced and this is the result.

(Soundbite of crowd)

(Soundbite of gunfire)

MARTIN: That is gunfire that was heard on the streets of Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital last night. As we reported before, there were some 18 candidates vying for the presidency, but there was so much chaos at the polls during the election that a dozen candidates jointly called for the results to be invalidated.

Last night, however, the electoral commission announced that the government-backed candidate, Jude Celestin, would face Mirlande Manigat, a former first lady, in a runoff. The U.S. Embassy has expressed concern over these results. We wanted to know more so we've called upon, once again, Jonathan Katz. He's Haiti correspondent for the Associated Press, and he's joining us by phone from Port-au-Prince. Jonathan, thanks so much for joining us once again.

Mr. JONATHAN KATZ (Haiti Correspondent, Associated Press): Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: So, Jonathan, tell us, if you would, just bring us up to date here. When did the election committee declare its results?

Mr. KATZ: It was about 9:00 last night. It was about three hours after the press conference was originally scheduled to be held. It was one spokesman who was sitting at a table that had clearly been set up for the entire electoral commission, sat there and read the results. First, the Senate, and then the deputies and then, finally, presidentials. And very quickly after the presidential results were read, the unrest started in the streets.

MARTIN: What's the atmosphere there right now? And what's it been like overnight?

Mr. KATZ: There was a lot of protest and it was going on really late last night. There was gunfire until very, very late at night. And essentially it kind of tapered off overnight while people were sleeping and then as soon as the sun came up, there were black tire fires and there were barricades up on the street. Rocks started getting thrown at cars. There were reports of stores having their windows broken, some being looted. So essentially it is a bit of a volatile situation right now.

MARTIN: Now, as you had told us, there were originally some 18 candidates and immediately, even before election day was over, 12 of the candidates held a joint event to say that they would not accept the results because they felt that there was just too much chaos at the polls, they had no confidence in the findings. So, what has happened to that group now?

Mr. KATZ: Of those 12, two of them, the front runners, Mirlande Manigat and Michel Martelly, the next day, Monday after the election, said that they were reversing position. Actually, they didn't acknowledge they were reversing position, but they did. And they said that they were no longer calling for the election to be cancelled. The reason was both of them had a very strong chance of going on to the second round.

It now appears that Manigat has and that Mr. Martelly has not and it are his protestors who are behind a lot of the trouble right now on the streets. It's his name that's being shouted more than any other.

MARTIN: Tell us about the other candidate who's been named to participate in the runoff.

Mr. KATZ: Jude Celestin is the candidate backed by the government. He himself is sort of an enigma. He's not very well known. He was basically plucked from obscurity. He is the head of the state-run construction company. So the thing that he's best known for is being in charge of the trucks that were carting away bodies and some rubble after the earthquake. He is - had a very well-funded campaign, so his face - he has a mustache and was seen smiling out from a gingham shirt, and very well known all over the city. But he himself is sort of unknown.

So he is basically seen as a continuation of President Rene Preval, who has been increasingly unpopular over the last few years. And it is essentially anger over the possibility that that administration might continue that's behind a lot of the unrest that we're seeing right now.

MARTIN: Jonathan, as we said, the U.S. Embassy came out with its own announcement last night. What exactly did they say and how unusual or typical is it for the embassy to offer comment during an election campaign?

Mr. KATZ: It seems somewhat unusual to me. It is done. But the embassy here is often very reticent to throw itself in a political debate. Essentially they were saying that the results that were announced by the electoral council don't match the results that were expected by a number of observers, including some U.S. observers who'd been accredited by the electoral council itself.

The expectation had been based on those initial reports that Mr. Martelly and Ms. Manigat would be going on to the second round and that Mr. Celestin would be left out. And I think that there was some surprise in a lot of quarters that the results turned out the way that they did. The fact that the U.S. Embassy has weighed in like this, obviously that's a very important voice in Haiti, and that may have some bearing on whether or not a different sort of compromise is found. But that's just another in a very, very complex and very, very volatile mix that's essentially changing by the hour.

MARTIN: When is the run off supposed to take place?

Mr. KATZ: It's January 16th is when it's scheduled for. And there is some question that before the results were actually announced, the head of the Organization of American States and Caribbean Community observer mission, basically the most important observer mission, said that it was possible that a third candidate might be put in if essentially it was a tie. And less than one percent of the vote separates Mr. Celestin, who's placed second and Mr. Martelly, who's placed third.

But there's no indication yet from the electoral council of what exactly it is that they plan to do. And that's just very much a wait and see situation.

MARTIN: That's Associated Press reporter Jonathan Katz. He's updating us once again on the situation in Haiti by phone. He's in the capital, Port-au-Prince. Jonathan, thank you so much for joining us once again.

Mr. KATZ: Thank you.

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