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Haiti’s president-elect faces daunting challenges

Port-au-Prince (AFP) – Jovenel Moise, the winner of Haiti’s presidential elections, now faces the daunting challenge of leading a desperately poor and politically-divided Caribbean nation.

The 48-year-old political neophyte made an appeal for national unity in a speech late Tuesday after the Provisional Electoral Council declared him the winner of the November 20 elections with 55.6 percent of the vote.

Moise called his election a vote “for a path to a better life for all Haitians.”

The results bring an official end to a protracted political crisis in Haiti, which has been leaderless since February 2016 when president Michel Martelly stepped down without a successor.

But Moise, candidate of the Tet Kale (PHTK) party, will be assuming leadership of a country riven by deep social and political divisions, and a depleted treasury.

More than 200 years after its independence from France, history’s first black republic is classified by the World Bank as one of the world’s most unequal.

The wealth possessed by Haiti’s economic elite, people of mixed race and of Syrian-Lebanese descent, contrasts with the extreme poverty of the rest of the population: nearly 60 percent of Haitians live on less than $2 (1.90 euros) a day.

The huge gap between rich and poor was a key aspect of the campaigns of Moise’s main rivals, who accused the PHTK candidate of defending only the interests of the bourgeois elite.

But Moise on Tuesday said his administration would “work for all Haitians without distinction.”

Appealing to his rivals for the presidency, Moise said their experience, ability and dedication were needed “so that every Haitian may have food on their plate and money in their pockets.”

– Opposition defiance –

The main opposition candidates have yet to concede defeat and are legally challenging Moise’s victory.

Presidential elections were first held in October 2015, but the results were thrown out due to massive fraud. Since then, the major opposition candidates have rejected any possibility of a Moise victory, denouncing his win as an “electoral coup d’etat.”

The official results put Jude Celestin in second place with 19.57 percent of the vote, followed by Moise Jean-Charles (11.04 percent) and Maryse Narcisse (9.01 percent).

And most Haitians showed little interest in the contest with only 21 percent casting a ballot in the election.

Public skepticism of politicians is high, and Moise’s ideas for reform are sketchy.

Meanwhile, the Haitian economy is in deep trouble, staggering under a $2 billion debt, a lack of public or private investment and anemic growth that is not expected to surpass one percent this year.

Hurricane Matthew, which left $2 billion in damages in October, has already complicated Moise’s plans for turning Haiti into an exporter of organic foods.

– Halting the brain drain –

Faced with this economic and social mess, middle-class youths only see a future outside Haiti. Over the past three years, thousands have been leaving each month.

Stopping this brain drain is one of Moise’s biggest challenges, but the exodus has been under way for two decades: One in every four Haitians now live abroad.

Aware of that reality, the president-elect said Tuesday it was “time for the diaspora to really participate in the economic, social and political development” of Haiti.

But Haitian law grants no political rights to non-resident Haitians, and members of the national legislature are likely to resist any change that would open the political system to competition from outside.

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