PORT-AU-PRINCE – Singer and political outsider Michel Martelly is the winner of Haiti's presidential election, beating former first lady Mirlande Manigat, according to official preliminary results, a senior electoral council official said on Monday.
"Martelly won," the official at the Provisional Electoral Council, who asked not to be named, told Reuters.
He gave no immediate numerical breakdown, speaking ahead of a public announcement due later on Monday to give the eagerly awaited first results from the March 20 run-off vote in the volatile Caribbean state, one of the poorest in the world.
The results are preliminary because they can be subjected to legal challenges which must be dealt with by the electoral council before it can declare them definitive later in April.
"Sweet Micky" Martelly, a shaven-headed 50-year-old with no previous government experience, had preached a forceful message of change, pledging to break with decades of past corruption and misrule and to bring a better life to Haitians struggling to recover from a devastating 2010 earthquake.
His campaign tweeted the reports of his win. There was no immediate reaction from the Manigat camp.
As president, Martelly will face the huge challenge of trying to rebuild a small Caribbean country that was prostrated in poverty long before an earthquake killed more than 300,000 people and bludgeoned its fragile economy last year. Hundreds of thousands of destitute earthquake victims are still living in squalid tent and tarpaulin camps.
Anxious anticipation tinged with fears of violence had gripped the country since the preliminary results announcement was delayed from last week because of reported high levels of fraud.
Blue-helmeted U.N. peacekeepers were out patrolling the capital Port-au-Prince and other potential flashpoints. Some stores boarded up windows in anticipation of trouble.
The United Nations and donor governments including the United States which have pledged billions of dollars of reconstruction funds to Haiti want the election to produce a stable, legitimate leadership to take charge of the recovery.
The elections are choosing a successor to outgoing President Rene Preval and also new members of the parliament.
Analysts say the new president will have to deal with the intense pressure of the expectations of millions of Haitians who want jobs and a better life, among them hundreds of thousands of homeless quake survivors living in tent camps
Although both candidates, heeding earnest appeals from the international community, have restrained their supporters since the March 20 vote, many ordinary Haitians were wary that violence could follow the preliminary results announcement.
Nevertheless, the run-off last month passed off generally peacefully.
But in a country where calm streets can become transformed in seconds into battlegrounds of protesters and flaming tires, rumors have been swirling about threats to "burn the nation" and about machetes -- the long, curved cutlasses that are a traditional weapon of Haitians -- selling out at stores.
"If there is a clear winner, then there won't be any disputes," Robert Fatton, Jr., a Haiti expert and professor in the University of Virginia's Department of Politics, said.
"But if the vote is very close, then I think we may have in fact the possibility of serious trouble," he added.
The international community has worked to keep the Haitian elections on track through its U.N. peacekeeping mission and electoral observers and experts from the OAS and Caricom.
Backed by diplomatic pressure from Washington, these experts persuaded Haitian authorities to revise the disputed first round results to put Martelly -- originally placed third -- in the March run-off with Manigat, at the expense of a government-backed candidate dropped due to alleged fraud.
"I think what the international community wants is basically political stability," Fatton said.
With the INITE party of outgoing President Rene Preval expected to remain strong in parliament, the new Haitian leader will also have to manage a fractious political situation.
This has been stirred up further by the separate returns from exile this year of two former presidents, both previously ousted by revolts -- left-wing populist Jean-Bertrand Aristide and former dictator Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier.