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Haiti Waits for Results of Second Round of Elections

  • Jeff Swicord

A man walks past a fence covered with election posters in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Mar 16 2011

A man walks past a fence covered with election posters in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Mar 16 2011

Electoral officials in Haiti have delayed announcing the preliminary results of the March 20 presidential runoff election.

Authorities say the results will be made public next Monday, instead of this Thursday as originally planned. Analysts say a credible, functioning government is crucial to the country's efforts to rebuild after last year's devastating earthquake.

Many Haitians simply wonder which direction their country will take more than a year after a devastating earthquake changed their lives forever, and whether Michel Martelly or Mirlande Managat will lead Haiti.

Robert Maguire, director of the Haiti Project at Trinity University in Washington, says the election was not about ideology. It was about getting things done. "I think it is a very pragmatic election where people are looking to say: 'Who is the person that can somehow improve the situation for my life?'"

High on the list of needs is permanent housing for more than half-a-million people still living in camps. Haitian Chamber of Commerce President George Sassine says the private sector is ready to build new housing, once the country's political situation is stabilized.

"I don’t see it going further than six more months, because a lot of people have already moved out, and what we are seeing is new people are moving in because they know that, in those camps, there is healthcare being given, water, free water and all kinds of things. So you have people moving into those camps. So, it is all about a political decision," he said.

Joe Leitman, program manager for the World Bank’s Haiti Reconstruction Fund, says 17 international donors have honored an initial $329 million to date. Many more donors have pledged $5.6 billion, but only $1.7 billion has been honored. Some of that money has gone toward closing the government’s budget gap for 2010. The rest is allocated for for projects, including rubble removal and what will be the largest housing project in Haiti. He expects the public perception of little progress over the last year will soon fade.

"I’m not sure where it comes from. It may be a logic that people have imposed to explain why things have been slow to start up. I think we are seeing a lot of money that has been allocated is being programmed now. And what we are seeing increasingly now is the implementation is starting to begin," he said.

There may also be potential points of friction between the new government and the international community. Both presidential candidates say they want to restore the Haitian national army, which was disbanded in 1995 because of its use for civil repression.

Robert Maguire says the army is not a job creation program. "Martelly himself has said we want to restore the army as a means of creating jobs. Well, to me, that is not really a job creation program. If you want to create jobs, you do something like create a civic service core," he said.

Maguire says another flash point could be Haiti's economic strategy. "I think the international community tends to weigh more heavily on the side of manufacturing, garment and assembly plants. I think there is a desire in Haiti to go much more strongly on the side of agriculture, food security, what Haitians call food sovereignty, so that they can feed themselves," he said.

He cautions the international community to listen to Haitian officials.

The next president will have many opportunities, but also face many potential pitfalls. Experts agree there is little margin for error, and success will depend on the new president’s ability to include broad segments of society in the national dialogue.