Haitian candidate wants UN peacekeepers out

Haiti election favorite Mirlande Manigat, a longtime opposition leader and erstwhile first lady, is bracing for "massive fraud" in this weekend's vote and wants UN peacekeepers out.

Leading most polls, Manigat is promising a break from the corruption-tainted administrations of the past that have done little to address the plight of ordinary Haitians more than half of whom live on less than a dollar a day.

Four of the 19 registered presidential candidates asked for Sunday's elections to be delayed so that the country can address a raging cholera epidemic that has claimed over 1,400 lives and could see up to 200,000 fresh cases in the next three months.

But not Manigat. The vote is "important for the country. We are going to change our government team," said the candidate, a favorite among women voters who enjoys the backing of a coalition of lawmakers opposed to President Rene Preval.

"If we delay the elections, the president will stay and we will face a new, unproductive cycle with a provisional government."

The 70-year-old is no stranger to the presidential palace, where she served as first lady for a few months in 1988 until her husband Leslie Manigat was ousted from office in a military coup.

After clashes that stained the campaign and killed at least two people during confrontations between rival political factions of candidates Jude Celestin, backed by Preval, and Charles-Henri Baker, Manigat said she was keeping her cool.

"I don't work with fear. I am never afraid," she said in an interview.

Manigat denounced the "serious" incidents and claimed that during a rally in the remote central village of Cange, Celestin supporters threw tear gas.

"Gunshots were fired and the police had to step in," she said.

Above all else, the candidate said she was bracing for "massive fraud," with unplanned voting stations managed by Celestin supporters and fake ballots.

Haitians will have to learn how to "live with cholera," Manigat said, sitting at a varnished desk before a Haitian flag.

"After the disease peaks in two, three months, we will have to get used to cholera, which will be endemically present among us" for years.

Asked about UN peacekeepers from Nepal accused of bringing cholera into the country, Manigat said the jury was still out but that, regardless, the UN peacekeeping mission known as MINUSTAH should wrap up its mission and leave.

"MINUSTAH is a foreign military body. It's against the constitution and it brings back bad memories. the presence of a foreign military force, even a multilateral one, is not normal," she said.

The former first lady said she understood Haitians' distrust of the peacekeepers.

"I'm not saying MINUSTAH is responsible. I have my doubts," she added, before saying that its role in the cholera epidemic had been "proven" by information leaking out of the health ministry.

"The anti-MINUSTAH protests reflect Haitians' state of mind."

She called rumors that MINUSTAH was at fault for the first cholera outbreak in the deeply impoverished nation still reeling from a massive earthquake in January simply became "the straw that broke the camel's back.

But Manigat acknowledged it would be "unreasonable" for the UN peacekeepers to leave too soon.

MINUSTAH "has a dissuasive effect as far as security is concerned. It will have to withdraw little by little to be replaced by Haitian soldiers," she added.

Nearly 4.7 million Haitians are eligible to vote in Sunday's presidential elections, which will also see 11 of the country's 30 senators and all 99 parliamentary deputies chosen.

The country could face further chaos and risk billions in international aid if no credible government emerges to replace preval, who is legally barred from seeking a third term.

"Haitians do not want continuity. They want change, to see a rupture from the past," Manigat said.

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