In an election tainted by allegations of political payoffs and lack of planning, thousands of voters in Haiti took to the polls Sunday to cast ballots for presidential and parliamentary elections. This election day comes after years of delays and despite recent spates of violence during previous rounds of voting at polling sites.
Haiti, the Western hemisphere's poorest nation, boasts of having 5.8 million registered voters. Many poll watchers there expect a December runoff will be necessary because a whopping 54 candidates are vying to become the country's next president.
The Associated Press, citing Haiti's Provisional Electoral Council, reports final results from Sunday's election are not expected until late November.
"The field is so crowded and confusing that there's little clarity about who might be leading; polls have been unreliable and contradictory.
"The voting process was generally orderly across Haiti, although there were some early signs of confusion.
"At a voting center in Port-au-Prince's Martissant slum, an elections supervisor repeatedly yelled at dozens of people trying to force their way in. 'No voting two times!'
"People shouted back that they were being prevented from voting once.
"Varnel Polycard, a vendor of phone chargers, walked away fuming.
" 'I'm here to vote, and they are trying to stop me,' he said.
"People shoved to stay in line at a polling center in the Petionville district of Port-au-Prince, where police gave the unruliest people in line short zaps with a Taser when brief scuffles broke out."
The Miami Herald reports the Organization of American States has 125 election watchers observing the proceedings. The publication also reports the start of voting was delayed by as nearly two hours in some polling centers. It adds:
"Haiti's high-stakes presidential, legislative and local elections got off to a slow start Sunday, with long lines forming outside of voting centers well before the 6 a.m. start time.
" 'It's almost 8 a.m. and the elections haven't started,' a frustrated voter at Rue Vaillant said as political party monitors banged on a blue gate to be allowed in. Moments later, police finally arrived so election supervisors could commence the voting.
"By mid-day, police had already made 73 arrests throughout the country, Haiti National Police spokesman Franz Lerebours said."
Reporting from Port-au-Prince, NPR's Carrie Kahn reported Saturday on Weekend Edition that Jude Celestin, a mechanical engineer educated in Switzerland, and Jovenel Moise, a wealthy businessman who made his money exporting fruit, are two of the more established candidates running for president. She adds that many Haitians remain dubious of the political process.
"Voter apathy is running high. During last August's chaotic legislative election, the contest was marred by poor planning, voter intimidation and violence. Less than a fifth of voters cast ballots. Election officials have vowed to do better this round, but many voters are skeptical."
In addition to casting votes for presidential candidates, the International Business Times reports Haitians will also be voting in "a second round of legislative elections for 119 seats in Haiti's lower house (the chamber of deputies) and 20 in its upper house (the senate), and municipal elections." The publication later adds:
"Elections for Haiti's Senate were last conducted May 2012, the same year elections for municipal offices were last held. Meanwhile, the country has not had a presidential election since 2010.
"The current president, Michel Martelly, was elected in a runoff in 2011. He disbanded parliament in January and began governing by executive order. Constitutional law bars him from running for re-election Sunday."