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Haitians cast ballots in presidential runoff

Haitians scarred by decades of poverty, political corruption and natural disasters cast ballots Sunday for president in hopes that a new leader could do what others have not: Replace homes and schools in the earthquake-devastated capital, improve education and create some optimism for the future.

Voters chose between Michel "Sweet Micky" Martelly, a popular musician who never has held public office, and Mirlande Manigat, a former first lady and senator and a longtime fixture on the political scene. Voters formed what for the most part were orderly lines throughout the country, some shrugging off delays of three hours. Preliminary results are expected March 31.

"A lot of governments come through to make change for themselves and their families," Jean-Claude Henry, a 43-year-old economist, said after he voted at a school in the Delmas section of Port-au-Prince, the capital. "We want radical change for the population."

The voting was much calmer than the first round in November, which was marred by disorganization, voter intimidation and allegations of fraud.

Whoever wins will face enormous challenges in a country emerging from last year's earthquake, which the government estimates killed more than 300,000 people. A multibillion-dollar reconstruction effort has stalled, and 800,000 people still live in the camps set up around Port-au-Prince after the quake. A cholera outbreak that has killed more than 4,700 people compounds the misery and is expected to surge again with the rainy season.

Martelly and Manigat have similar agendas, vowing to build homes, foster economic growth and make education universal in a country where only half the children attend school.

But their backgrounds could not be more distinct: Manigat is a 70-year-old university administrator and former senator; Martelly is a 50-year-old master of Haitian compas music who has no college degree and a history of crude onstage antics.

Martelly seems to have captured the ardor of young jobless voters. Hundreds cheered him wildly like the pop star he is as he danced on the roof of an SUV after casting his ballot across the street from a tent encampment of people who lost homes in the earthquake.

Manigat, who touts her academic credentials and tells voters to call her "Mother," appeals to the country's educated middle class, a sliver of the population in a largely poor nation of 10 million.

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