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Haiti: Presidential frontrunner wants to lift country’s fortunes with farming

Haiti police fire tear gas as supporters of defeated candidate Maryse Narcisse take to the streets to dispute election results

A candidate who wins more than half of the ballots cast in the first round is the victor

The man who appears to have won the first round of Haiti’s presidential election, Jovenel Moise, says he wants to lift the Caribbean country out of poverty by reviving its agricultural sector.

Moise, a 48-year-old political novice and entrepreneur who worked in agriculture mostly growing bananas, has been nicknamed "banana man" since former president Michel Martelly chose him to represent the PHTK party.

"We will need to mobilize all the resources of the country, as I repeated during my campaign: men, land, sun and rivers to put food on people’s plates and money in their pockets," Moise said late Monday, shortly after the preliminary results of the first-round election were announced.

The preliminary results showed that Moise won the election outright, garnering 55.7 percent of the vote, but he lacks much popularity, with only 21 percent of eligible voters casting their ballots.

A candidate who wins more than half of the ballots cast in the first round is the victor, preventing the election from going to a second round.

Jude Celestin, who ran as a candidate of the opposition LAPEH and came in second with 19.52 percent, has joined fellow candidates Moise Jean-Charles (11.04 percent) and Maryse Narcisse (8.99 percent) in challenging the outcome.

"We are saying there was cheating and we will see who cheated," Celestin told AFP, without naming Moise directly.

‘Electoral coup’

Violence broke out Tuesday in some of Port-au-Prince’s poorest neighborhoods, which were carried by Narcisse’s Fanmi Lavalas party.

Police launched teargas grenades to disperse a crowd of hundreds of her supporters who called the vote an "electoral coup" and reacted to the advancing officers by throwing stones.

"We didn’t vote in secret. All of the working-class neighborhoods in the country… voted for Maryse, but the results they announced were an electoral coup," said Rose-Marie Rosilus, who lives in Bel Air, a neighborhood that has historically been a bastion of former leader Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who heads the Lavalas party.

"We will stay out in the streets until the electoral council gives us our true results," added Rosilus, who brought lemons to alleviate the effect of the teargas.

Provisional Electoral Council president Leopold Berlanger cautioned that the results were preliminary and final results would not be confirmed until December 29.

Haitian law offers candidates the opportunity to challenge the results in electoral courts.

The drawn-out proceedings are slowing down the return to constitutional order in a desperately poor country already beset by political upheaval.

Three of the council’s nine members refused to sign the results announced on Monday, signaling a potential conflict over the outcome.

"There were no demonstrations of joy in Haiti. When a candidate wins with more than 55 percent, there should be spontaneous demonstrations by people who are out in the streets because they are happy," Celestin said.

The fact that there were no such public revelries "means that people do not agree with the results which do not reflect the popular vote," he said.

‘A candidate cheated’

"It is not just a fight to narrow the gap, but rather to demonstrate that a candidate cheated and therefore must be punished as the electoral decree mandates, which is to say he should be removed from the process if necessary," Celestin said, indicating he would pursue the matter in the courts.

The long-delayed November 20 election took place without major incident. Haiti’s vote was originally held in October 2015, but the results were scrapped after an independent commission found massive fraud.

Moise was initially said to have won the October 2015 election’s first round with approximately 33 percent to 25 percent for Celestin, who denounced the results as a "ridiculous farce" before they were scrapped.

Fatigued by the long-delayed vote, the majority of Haitians report that they do not believe an election can lift Haiti — where more than 60 percent of the population survives on less than $2 per day — out of extreme poverty.

Nearly 6.2 million people were eligible to vote in the Americas’s poorest country, parts of which are still struggling to recover from a devastating hurricane.

More than 800,000 people in Haiti currently need emergency food assistance, according to the United Nations.

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