STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Talk about having to keep many balls in the air at once - so many things happened over the weekend that the world barely noticed a major story. Haitians went to the polls yesterday to elect a new president in a runoff election. The contest pitted a former first lady against one of the country's most famous and colorful pop singers. Despite some delays at polling places, the voting went much more smoothly than last November's troubled primary. NPR's Carrie Kahn reports from Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince.
CARRIE KAHN: At 7:00 in the morning outside this polling place in the capital's Bel Air neighborhood, voters are pressed against each other, lining up down the block.
Ms. PLACIDE MARIE NADIA (Foreign language spoken)
KAHN: Placide Marie Nadia is supervising the voting here. She says when she went to set up the polling place, she found only ballots from a 2009 senatorial race.
Ms. NADIA: (Foreign language spoken)
KAHN: She says it's so frustrating that the authorities did such a poor job. Nadia says she also didn't get the black ink pens to mark voters' thumbs so they can't vote again. Outside, Gil LuJean, an unemployed carpenter, had given up his spot in line for a piece of shade across the street. LuJean recited the slogan many voters said brought them out to the polls.
Mr. GIL LUJEAN: (Foreign language spoken)
KAHN: Change. He wants change and will cast his ballot for pop singer Michel Martelly. The 50-year old Martelly is a newcomer to politics and that seems to have won him a big following, especially among the poor. Down the street, at another polling place, Jacqueline Antoine says she went for Martelly too.
Ms. JACQUELINE ANTOINE: (Foreign language spoken)
KAHN: She says she's sick of living in a tent. She's been there with six other family members ever since the January 2010 earthquake. That disaster killed hundreds of thousands of people and left more than a million homeless. Antoine says it's no way for human beings to live.
Whoever becomes Haiti's next president will face the daunting challenges of managing billions of dollars of foreign reconstruction aid and fighting a deadly cholera outbreak. He or she will also have to contend with two former leaders who've recently returned to the country: former dictator Jean Claude Duvalier and President Jean Bertrand Arisitide. Many feared Arisitide's return Friday would complicate yesterday's election. But the former president remained silent in his home.
(Soundbite of people singing in foreign language)
KAHN: The streets were calmer than last November's primary, although these Martelly supporters chanted the country will see fire if he is not declared the winner.
As Martelly cast his ballot at a public school, a huge crowd formed. Nearly trampled by reporters, Martelly spoke on briefly.
Mr. MICHEL MARTELLY (Haitian Presidential Candidate): (Foreign language spoken)
KAHN: He said today is the day change begins in Haiti. He promised that Haitians will get access to jobs and education. Education was a big issue for 23-year-old student Bernard LaJeune. He voted for candidate Mirlande Manigat.
Mr. BERNARD LAJEUNE (Student): (Foreign language spoken)
KAHN: As a former first lady and one-time senator, he says Manigat has far more experience. Politically, both candidates are right of center, but the similarities end there. Manigat is quite reserved, was educated in France, and draws her support among students. Martelly is better known for his crude antics as a pop performer. He doesn't have a college degree and has admitted to past drug use.
Despite early snafus at polling places, this round went off better than last November's primary. Haitian election council chief Gaillot Dorsainvil apologized for the voting delays. Through an interpreter, he said that yesterday's vote was a great step forward for Haiti.
Mr. GAILLOT DORSAINVIL (Haitian Election Council Chief): (Unintelligible) democracy is getting strengthened in Haiti.
KAHN: Democracy is getting strengthened in Haiti. Official results aren't expected until March 31st.
Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Port-au-Prince.
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