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Published: Sunday, 4/10/2011 - Updated: 4 years ago

Haiti's hopes

ALTHOUGH the official election returns won't be announced until Saturday, entertainer Michel Martelly evidently is Haiti's new president. His circuitous route to the office calls into question the validity of his mandate.

In the first round of elections last November, the top two finishers were Mirlande Manigat, the wife of a previous president, and Jules Celestin, the choice of the party of current President Rene Preval, which also dominates the Haitian parliament. The two candidates advanced to the second round.

Protests by Mr. Martelly's supporters caused Mr. Celestin's withdrawal from the race, placing Mr. Martelly in last month's runoff against Ms. Manigat. Only about 23 percent of eligible Haitian voters took part; according to official observers, Mr. Martelly won with 68 percent of the vote.

But Mr. Martelly insists that 30 percent of Haitians voted and that he got 85 percent of the vote. His failure to document his claims is a bad start.

The president-elect inherits stupendous problems. An earthquake in January, 2010, has left tens of thousands of Haitians still living in tents. Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince, including the presidential palace, remains in ruins.

The disruption caused by the quake also produced a cholera epidemic that still isn't under control. Unemployment and other economic and financial problems continue to hobble Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.

A year ago, the world pledged $5 billion for Haitian reconstruction, including $1 billion from the United States. But only about $1.7 billion has been delivered.

Donors, including U.S. officials, wanted to wait for the outcome of the election before they put the money in Haitian leaders' hands. Meanwhile, reconstruction and recovery have inched forward.

The question is whether Mr. Martelly is up to the formidable task of organization and leadership that confronts him as president. His electoral mandate is meager and his background is erratic; as a singer he would disrobe on stage.

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