Haitians Return To The Polls For Run-Off Election

Haitians went to the polls Sunday to vote for a new president in a run-off election. They were asked to choose between a 70-year-old former first lady and a pop singer. The run-off followed months of wrangling and violence in the wake of disputed November elections. International observers say elections went smoothly and calmly, despite some reports of irregularities and delays. For the latest on the election, guest host Farai Chideya speaks with Jacqueline Charles, Caribbean correspondent for the Miami Herald, for an update from Port-au-Prince.

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FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

I'm Farai Chideya. This is TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. Michel Martin is away.

On the program today, federal and state budget cuts are likely to deal a harsh blow to public education across the country. In Providence, Rhode Island, it's already meant some 2,000 teacher pink slips. We'll talk to the mayor of Providence. And, later, a panel of educators from across the political spectrum about what cutbacks mean for the profession and student achievement.

But we begin in Haiti, where after Sunday's vote, the people are now waiting to find out who will be their next president. Haitians went to the polls to vote for either Mirlande Manigat, a 70-year-old former first lady or Michel Martelly, a Haitian music star better known as Sweet Micky.

For the latest on the election and other political developments, we're joined now by Jacqueline Charles. She's the Caribbean correspondent for the Miami Herald newspaper and she joins us on the line from the capital, Port-au-Prince. Thanks for joining us.

Ms. JACQUELINE CHARLES (Caribbean Correspondent, Miami Herald): Thank you for having me.

FARAI CHIDEYA: So, first off, we know the initial vote late last year was riddled with accusations of corruption and voter fraud. How did the voting go yesterday?

Ms. CHARLES: Well, the voting in the capital, I can tell you that we had some (unintelligible) here in the capital of Port-au-Prince and the vote was delayed because of problems with late opening with polls. A lot of the polls reported missing materials.

But the election officials here eventually extended the voting an hour past the official closing time. But even then, we started to see very light turnout. And there is a debate right now in the country as to what the turnout was.

CHIDEYA: So, what was the response of election monitors or observers and political parties where they satisfied that it was free and fair enough?

Ms. CHARLES: Well, that's something that's going to come as the voting takes place. But I can tell you just from what I observe compared to the first round, it was less chaotic than the first round. There were a lot of fixes that had been in place, but we still had voters who were unable to find their names on the electoral list.

You know, with the Haiti, the crisis or the debate comes after the fact once the numbers start coming in, and we're not going to know officially what the preliminary results are until the very first of March.

CHIDEYA: So, there was also pre-election drama on Friday with the high profile return of the former president Jean Bertrand Aristide. He jetted back to Haiti after seven years in exile in South Africa. Did he try to influence the outcome with his return?

Ms. CHARLES: Well, you know, I can't say that he tried to influence, but there was a lot of debate and a lot of people who felt that his return was going to influence the outcome.

The fact that you had a lot of people, a lot of voters did not go to vote at the polls, was that the result of Jean Bertrand Aristide's return here and his reminder during his speech that the exclusion of Fanmi Lavalas, his political party, is the exclusion of the majority, I don't really know. Was the fact that a lot of people did not go as a result of the first round? I mean, there are a lot of unanswered questions.

But clearly former Jean Bertrand Aristide is here. His political party, which has been fragmented is now working on pulling itself back together. And I think that with these elections we're starting to see a new chapter in Haiti's history and what role he plays in that chapter and his political party plays is something yet to come.

CHIDEYA: And if you're just joining us, this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Farai Chideya.

We're talking about yesterday's presidential runoff election in Haiti and I'm joined by the Miami Herald's Jacqueline Charles from Port-au-Prince. And so these two candidates competing in the runoff are a former first lady and a popular singer. How were they regarded by voters?

Ms. CHARLES: Well, it's interesting. Both of these, you know, candidates do not come from the governing party. And so, I think for the voters, what they were looking for, in terms of change. So, to each, both of them represented some form of change. But they are very different. There's a generation that separates them. Some people saw in Michel Martelly a guy who was not a traditional politician and so voting for him was a rejection of the traditional class.

Others saw Mirlande Manigat a stubborn, educated, PhD, an intellectual. Some people felt that she would better represent the country and so they voted for her. But it also came down to an issue of age, which one of these two candidates would best represent, you know, Haiti? But both of these candidates, interesting enough, were going after what you would call the face of former President Aristide. That populous, you know, largely poor, you know, urban base. They both in their own way went after that.

And so, I think that we just have to wait to see what the final outcome was. And regardless of the winner, I think that there is still something we have to notice, that if we get a low turnout, in comparison to, say, 2006, I think there was a 60 percent turnout, former President Preval - I'm sorry - current President Preval, received. There has to be the question of that. What is the message that the majority of the Haitian people send by not going to the polls and how is that going to affect the next president who takes office?

CHIDEYA: Well, Jacqueline Charles is the Caribbean correspondent for the Miami Herald newspaper and joined us on the line from the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince. Thanks so much for your time.

Ms. CHARLES: Thanks for having me.

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