Round two elections: Promises and pitfalls

If you had blinked when the candidates for the presidential runoff were announced at 7.30am this morning, you would have missed it. After an hour of trawling through the vote count by area, the candidates-to-be were announced so fast that it was entirely possible that you could be glued to the TV and still miss the whole thing.

This is what happened to us–except, of course, we already knew the result, because the international press had begun announcing that Manigat and Martelly were through hours before the Haitian government gave the official word.

What made them think they had the right to do so, and whether their actions were irresponsible, are very interesting questions that raises all kinds of issues about Haiti's political sovereignty and the accountability of the international press.

Press aside, what Haitians are worried about is what is going to happen in the next two months. Contrary to popular expectation, and MINUSTAH's heavy presence in the streets, Port-au-Prince is very calm today. Most people didn't go into work because they feared trouble, so the mood out there is one of a slow and uneventful Sunday.

Preval's and Celestin's Inite had a meeting this morning and a friend warned me to be careful because arms had been distributed, but it is now 3:40pm and nothing appears to have happened anywhere. Last night Twitter was full of rumours that two policemen had been shot downtown.

I have been told that this is true, but that it happens every night: it is not at all clear that it is an election-specific event. So, it would seem that, at least for the present, the Haitian government has succeeded in making, and implementing, a decision that most Haitians can stomach. I am told that if Martelly had missed out on the reruns there would most definitely have been riots downtown because it is common opinion that he rightfully won second place.

So, what will happen now? Are we over the most difficult hurdles?

This depends. There are a few events looming that could yet test Haiti's uneasy calm.

The first of these is Duvalier's anniversary and Préval's scheduled step-down on the 7th February, but now that Martelly's through, this is likely to pass relatively uneventfully.

The second of these is the run-off election itself on the 20th March. Again, I'm told that there is no real reason to expect trouble. The more incendiary event could be the announcing of the election results on the 30th March, but given is how fast things change in Haiti's political climate, it's hard to predict what will happen. One factor that could turn the tide of calm is the anticipated return of Aristide, who is currently residing in Cuba.

I am told that even if he is issued with a diplomatic passport, this will not give him immunity, because he is on INTERPOL's list. In 2004 he cut a deal with the US that they would let him go if he promised never to come back. If he return and is arrested, Fanmi Lavalas will undoubtedly take to the streets. Some people believe that this would lead to civil war.

If Aristide stays away and people stay calm, what do these elections mean for Haiti's future? Neither Manigat or Martelly are left wing, though where the actually sit politically is contested. Neither are removed from the politics of the past–Manigat is a former first lady, and Martelly has military connections (and, it's rumoured, with Preval).

Both say they will focus on education, reinstate the Haitian army, and make foreign NGOs accountable to the Haitian state. Manigat's promising points is that she is educated, experienced, and has a fresh appeal because she is a woman. Martelly's is that he is young and popular, it is likely that the youth will listen to him, which augurs well for stability.

From where I'm sitting in Port-au-Prince now it seems to me that Haiti needs a combination of luck (avoidance of other major catastrophes such as hurricanes and ex-Presidents) and leadership. Both of these have been sorely lacking in recent history.

Manigat and Martelly are right to criticize Haiti's difficulties recovering from the earthquake on a combination of the non-accountability of NGOs and dearth of leadership in the Haitian government.

If they can leave the worst of the politicking behind, surround themselves with good advisers, and work out a bipartisan, common-sense and goal-oriented plan for Haiti's future along with the international community, then either of them could make inroads into solving Haiti's crises.