MEXICO CITY — After a nearly two-month standoff with international donors over its disputed presidential election, Haiti’s electoral commission Thursday announced that it had removed the government-backed candidate from the second round of voting in favor of a popular musician whose supporters held fierce protests when he was initially excluded.

PHOTO GALLERY:  Election Protests

The election authorities said Mirlande H. Manigat, a former first lady and college administrator who was the top vote getter in the Nov. 28 election, will face Michel Martelly, a performer with the stage name “Sweet Micky,” in a March 20 runoff.

The decision was a turnabout for the government, which had released preliminary results in December showing that Jude Célestin, a public works official who was President René Préval’s choice, had come in second, leading to days of violent protests over accusations of a stolen election.

But Mr. Préval, whose popularity has fallen as the pace of rebuilding from the January 2010 earthquake has slowed, came under intense diplomatic pressure to accept the conclusion of a team of international experts who argued that Mr. Célestin did not earn a spot because of tainted results.

The announcement comes at a moment of simmering political turmoil and intrigue, after the sudden return Jan. 16 of Jean Claude Duvalier, the former dictator known as “Baby Doc,” who now faces corruption and human rights charges stemming from his rule.

There are also hints that Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a populist priest and former president pushed from power in 2004, may soon come back, too. His political party, Lavalas, which is still popular in many, poorer quarters, was among more than a dozen banned from participating in the elections for what the authorities said were improper documents.

With widespread confusion and disarray at polling stations, some of them ransacked, nearly all of the primary candidates had denounced the election even before the first ballots were cast.

The Organization of American States, at the invitation of the government, issued a report suggesting widespread flaws and possible fraud in the count, saying that its analysis showed Mr. Martelly had come in second.

Members of Mr. Préval’s administration sent word that he was dissatisfied with the methodology, which was also questioned by some outside organizations as manipulation by foreign governments. The Congressional Black Caucus, among other groups, called for holding new elections rather than accept the O.A.S. report.

Still, intense diplomatic pressure followed, chiefly from the United States, France and Canada, Haiti’s principal donors, pressing Haitian officials to accept the O.A.S. findings. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton visited the country Sunday to deliver the message personally to the government and American officials had hinted that future support depended in part on accepting the report.

Schools and some businesses had closed Thursday in anticipation of violence, but the streets were calm after the announcement, which was delayed for hours. Shops began reopening and young people in some neighborhoods where Mr. Martelly had drawn support cheered and began playing his music.

There was no immediate explanation of how the council arrived at its decision.

It was announced by a Richardson Dumel, a council press aide, who sat behind a desk at its offices and read a long list of legislative election results before reading the two names in the runoff reporters had camped out in his office to hear. He left without taking any questions.

Ms. Manigat and Mr. Martelly offer striking contrasts in their public personas, but both campaigned on pledges of speeding up recovery from the January 2010 earthquake that the government says left more than 300,000 dead. Both promised to make Haiti less dependent on foreign governments and the hundreds of nongovernmental organizations that form the backbone of social services and operate essentially as a shadow government.

Ms. Manigat, 70, served briefly as first lady in 1988 after her husband, Leslie, became president after a similarly disputed election. They ended up in exile after a coup four months later. She has sought to turn her age and establishment credentials into a plus, saying Haiti needs an experienced administrator and denying her husband would be pulling the strings.

Mr. Martelly, 49, is one of Haiti’s most popular singers and performers, perhaps best known for his raunchy Carnival act. He cast himself, after the Haitian-born hip-hop star Wyclef Jean was denied permission to run, as just the outsider Haiti needed, punctuating his campaign appearances with songs.

At the same time, he met repeatedly with diplomats and business community get them to take him seriously. He dispensed with his stage name, took to wearing designer suits and surrounded himself with a coterie of international political consultants who had worked for Mexican President Felipe Calderón, among others.

Alex Dupuy, a Wesleyan University sociologist who studies Haiti, said both Ms. Manigat and Mr. Martelly have voiced conservative positions, particularly on law and order.

Mr. Martelly has suggest reinstating the disbanded Haitian military, partly to address chronic unemployment, while Ms. Manigat has called for bolstering the national police to tamp down crime.

“I don’t know that there is a significant difference between them,” Mr. Dupuy said.

Whatever proposals they may have — Ms. Manigat has suggested remaking the education system, while Mr. Martelly has talked about revamping the agriculture sector — must past muster with the international donors that prop up the country’s budget, he said.

Neither one is going to be able to “set the priority for economic policy,” Mr. Dupuy said. “That is set by the donors, major financial institutions and the interim recovery commission” guiding the rebuilding plans.

Mr. Préval’s term technically ends Monday, but he has said a law passed by the legislature would allow him to remain in office for up to three more months.

Vladimir Laguerre contributed reporting from Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

Copyright 2011 The New York Times Company. Reprinted from The New York Times, International, of Thursday, February 3, 2011.