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Moise says he's ready for tests facing Haiti

Supporters of presidential candidate Maryse Narcisse, from Fanmi Lavalas political party, block a street with stones after clashes with national police as they protest election results in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016. Jovenel Moise, a political newcomer backed by Haiti's previous elected leader, easily won the presidential election redo, according to preliminary results that were quickly questioned Tuesday by several losing factions. (AP Photo/Dieu Nalio Chery)

Supporters of presidential candidate Maryse Narcisse, from Fanmi Lavalas political party, block a street with stones after clashes with national police as they protest election results in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016. Jovenel Moise, a political newcomer backed by Haiti's previous elected leader, easily won the presidential election redo, according to preliminary results that were quickly questioned Tuesday by several losing factions. (AP Photo/Dieu Nalio Chery)

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — The political newcomer chosen to lead deeply divided Haiti for the next five years says he's eager to improve the lives of desperately poor families in the long-neglected countryside and bring steady economic advances to one of the least developed nations in the world.

Jovenel Moise, an upbeat entrepreneur, said reviving the economically blighted countryside where almost 80 per cent of households farm is one of his major goals. He described the rural poor as the backbone of his homeland's fragile economy.

"It's really important to change the lifestyle of these people," Moise told The Associated Press in his first interview with an international news agency since officials issued preliminary results showing he won the Nov. 20 election in a landslide.

If the preliminary results withstand challenges by three of his closest rivals in coming weeks, Moise will have earned the presidency with 55 per cent of the votes in a field of 27 candidates.

The result is supposed to be certified on Dec. 29 after an electoral tribunal resolves the challenges.

In the interview at a Petionville campaign office, Moise said his priorities focus on agriculture, education, energy reform and foreign investment.

He said he's looking forward to the challenge of building consensus and helping fix a political culture perpetually at war with itself.

"I am working hard to be close with the Parliament because there's no way a president can work without deputies, without senators," he said.

Robert Fatton, a Haitian-born politics professor at the University of Virginia, said that Moise will find governing difficult "if he is unwilling or unable to draw some key adversaries into his regime."

"The next few weeks and months will be bumpy and will test Jovenel Moise's statecraft and capacity to move the country in a new and hopeful trajectory," he said.

The still-preliminary November victory came more than a year after Moise topped an initial presidential vote that was eventually thrown out for alleged fraud, leading to a lengthy period of political limbo.

A businessman from northern Haiti, Moise had never run for office until he was hand-picked to be the Tet Kale party candidate by outgoing President Michel Martelly.

Some critics continue to view Moise's ascent with suspicion, suggesting Martelly is using the candidate as a proxy. Moise laughed off the criticism, saying it is mostly about the snobbery of political elites in the capital.

"In Haiti, when you come from the countryside, the people here in Port-au-Prince, they think they know everything. But it's not true and I'm the example. In the countryside you have good people also — with knowledge, with vision, with capacity," Moise said.

The slender 48-year-old father of three said Martelly would be an adviser when he becomes president, and he wants to study his predecessor's successes and mistakes. Other previous presidents also will serve as advisers, he said.

During his campaign, Moise touted his business background in agriculture.

In 2014, he launched the Agritrans banana exporting joint venture with the government on about 2,470 acres (1,000 hectares) in northeast Haiti with a $6 million loan approved by Martelly's administration. He proudly refers to himself by his campaign moniker, "Neg Bannan Nan" — "Banana Man" in Haitian Creole.

His first business venture was an auto parts company in Port-de-Paix, and he also distributed drinking water and created a project to bring renewable energy to several towns.

Haiti's revamped Provisional Electoral Council has been trying to show that the Nov. 20 election, organized with mostly Haitian resources, was clean in a country where accusations of vote-rigging and election fraud have long been common and are sometimes accurate.

But three of the council's nine members declined to sign the preliminary tally sheet, one of them telling local radio that he was "uncomfortable" with the results.

A monitoring team from the Organization of American States said that its observations were in line with Haiti's preliminary tally.

Moise said he was disappointed that voter turnout was a paltry 21 per cent .

There's long been a deep sense of voter disenchantment in Haiti and Moise said he believes more Haitians will vote in the next electoral cycle if politicians simply keep their promises and stop feuding.

"Let's try to move forward, to move together to get a better country," he said.

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David McFadden on Twitter: www.twitter.com/dmcfadd