- Associated Press - Thursday, February 3, 2011

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — Haitian electoral officials on Thursday dropped a government-backed candidate from the upcoming presidential runoff, ending a standoff with the U.S. and other international supporters over the results of a first-round of voting that was marred by fraud and disorganization.

The electoral commission said the March 20 runoff would feature former first lady Mirlande Manigat against Michel Martelly, a carnival singer widely known as “Sweet Micky.” The announcement, which came after a night of deliberations, means government-backed candidate Jude Celestin is out of the race.

Deadly riots spread throughout the country in December after the commission announced that Mr. Martelly was out of the runoff according to the preliminary results of the Nov. 28 election. This time, cheers erupted outside the commission’s office and throughout the surrounding streets of Petionville, a suburb in the hills of the capital. Haitians had awaited the results nervously, with workers rushing home and banks closing early on Wednesday.

The U.S. Embassy issued an alert for U.S. citizens warning of the “potential for elections-related violence throughout Haiti for the duration of the elections period.”

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton flew to Port-au-Prince on Sunday to meet with all three candidates and reaffirm in person to President Rene Preval that Washington backed an Organization of American States report recommending that Mr. Celestin be dropped from the race.

The first round included widespread disorganization, violence, intimidation, fraud and a call on election day from nearly every candidate — including Mr. Martelly and Ms. Manigat — to cancel the vote while it was going on.

An OAS team said that recalculating the results based on estimates of fraud would create a Manigat-Martelly faceoff in the runoff.

Mr. Preval’s five-year term is scheduled to end Monday under the constitution. An emergency law passed by members of his former party in an expiring Senate would allow him to remain in office for up to three more months, in part because his 2006 inauguration was delayed.

But if Mr. Preval steps down as scheduled, the Haitian constitution says the highest-ranking member of Haiti’s supreme court would take over the country pending an election to be held no less than 45 days and no more than 90 days later. The court’s presidency is currently vacant.

The situation is further complicated by the recent return of ousted dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier after 25 years of exile and discussions surrounding a potential return by exiled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, whose party was not allowed to participate in the election.

Protesters called for his return in Port-au-Prince on Wednesday.

Associated Press writer Jacob Kushner contributed to this report.