An intense, Haitian presidential campaign, which started slowly, has finally ended, finishing on a climactic note days before Sunday’s vote thanks to last-hour assists from two presidents and a world hip-hop star.
Both former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and Haiti-born rapper Wyclf Jean surprised potential voters Friday by taking to the streets of the country’s capital in favor of their presidential candidates. Not to be outdone, President Michel Martelly, who has been campaigning for weeks on behalf of his hand-picked successor, also took to the stage in the final hours of the campaign.
Whether the appearances, which forced unsuspecting motorists to spend hours in traffic, will be enough to allow their respective candidates to win Sunday’s presidential vote outright or finish among the two highest vote getters for a Dec. 27 runoff remains to be seen.
Four years after Haitian voters went to the polls in controversial elections that brought Martelly to power, they will be returning again to choose a successor from a crowded field of 54 candidates. They will also vote for members of parliament and local mayors.
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Despite fears of election-related violence, the campaign’s closure took on a carnival-like atmosphere as gigantic sound systems crawled through Port-au-Prince’s metropolitan area and Cap-Haitien, where thousands of supporters of opposition candidate Moise Jean-Charles also shut down the northern city.
“I’ve never seen anything like that,” Jean-Charles said. “Not even Aristide did that.”
Even still, Aristide surprised Haitians by his rare appearance in favor of his Fanmi Lavalas presidential candidate, Dr. Maryse Narcisse. Thousands accompanied his heavily-armed motorcade, holding tree branches and calling Aristide’s and Narcisse’s names as it rode through the Cite Soleil slum.
Along the way, Aristide, from time to time, emerged through his vehicle’s sunroof holding Narcisse’s hand.
“President Aristide knows when to come out,” said Frantz Biko Legros, a member of Fanmi Lavalas. “He’s always been with the population and today we see where he’s decided to come out with us, sending a clear message.”
As Aristide waded through the crowds, another battle for voters was taking place several miles south in the city of Léogâne.
Motorcades for rival candidates Jude Célestin and Jovenel Moise, Martelly’s hand-picked successor, both crossed in a traffic jam as one was leaving the city and another was entering.
After Moise’s rally finally started, Martelly called for voters’ support, telling the pink-clad crowd that it was now time to “build our economy, to have money in our pocket, to have work, to combat famine.”
Another surprise, which actually was the first to strike, was delivered by Jean with his arrival in Haiti.
Scores of Jude Célestin T-shirt clad motorcycles drivers came to greet Jean at the airport. After joining the motorcycle patrol, Jean quickly slipped into a yellow-and green T-shirt with Célestin’s image, mounted a bike and headed for his candidate’s Pétionville home.
Where do people get in their heads that I’m supposed to follow a candidate because I followed the last president?
Jean’s unexpected endorsement of Célestin immediately triggered a rap war. Martelly’s son, Olivier, dropped his own track touting Moise, and criticizing Wyclef’s endorsement of the guy whose controversial removal from the presidential ballots in 2010 continues to overshadow Martelly’s presidency.
His support of Célestin, whom he shrugged off in 2010 in favor of Martelly after he was banned from running by then-President René Préval, has nothing to do with Martelly, Wyclef said.
“Where do people get in their heads that I’m supposed to follow a candidate because I followed the last president?” he said.
Nor is he trying to reproduce history, Jean said. When the campaign’s concert-planned closure on the Champ de Mars was rained out Friday night, Jean and Célestin headed to church. There before tens of thousands of church-goers attending Église Shalom Tabernacle, Jean once again announced his support for Célestin.
“We’ve always had artists supporting us and we are happy about the new artists who have come on board,” Célestin said. “Like we’ve said: ‘We come with a dream, an idea.’ They may have stolen the votes but they didn’t steal the dream.”