Hard-hit Haitians go to polls in presidential race
Voting seems to be going well 6 weeks after killer storm
PORT- AU- PRINCE, Haiti — Haiti’s repeatedly derailed presidential election was going relatively smoothly Sunday as the nation tried to get its shaky democracy on a sturdier track after nearly a year of being led by a provisional government.
Voter turnout appeared paltry in much of southwest Haiti, which was ravaged by Hurricane Matthew on Oct. 4 and was affected by rains Sunday.
But in the capital of Port-au-Prince and most other areas, balloting appeared to be going relatively smoothly even after a number of polling centers opened after the 6 a.m. scheduled start.
“I will wait as long as I need to,” said Alain Joseph, a motorcycle taxi driver and father of four who wore a bright pink sweatshirt to show his loyalty to the Tet Kale party of ex-President Michel Martelly. Pink is the faction’s color.
Police reported some isolated incidents of voter intimidation and disruptions, including an attempt to torch a voting center in the northern town of Port Margot. There were 18 arrests in a country of more than 10 million people.
Leopold Berlanger, president of Haiti’s Provisional Electoral Council, told reporters that authorities were “satisfied” with how the election was progressing even though balloting could not take place in two isolated districts.
“I have to admit, I’m a little surprised just how smoothly things are going,” said Vanessa Similien, an electoral office worker who was monitoring voting at a school in Cite Soleil, a slum on the edge of Port-auPrince where voting sometimes has devolved into chaos.
The Caribbean nation’s roughly 6 million registered voters don’t lack for choice: 27 presidential candidates are on the ballot. The top two finishers will meet in a Jan. 29 runoff unless one candidate in the field manages to win more than 50 percent of the votes.
No results are scheduled to be released for eight days, and electoral council executive director Uder Antoine has said it might take even longer.
The balloting will also complete Parliament as voters pick a third of the Senate and the 25 remaining members of the Chamber of Deputies.
Helene Olivier, 72, said she was inspired to vote for the first time because she has had it with all the testosterone in Haitian politics. She believes that Fanmi Lavalas candidate Maryse Narcisse, one of two female presidential contenders, would improve the nation because of her gender.
“Women protect women. They make good changes. The men, they boss you and beat you too hard,” Olivier said after casting her ballot at a high school in Petionville, a hillside district above Port-au-Prince.
Results of an October 2015 vote were annulled this year after a special commission reported finding what appeared to be significant fraud and misconduct.
Most Haitians have stayed away from the polls in recent elections, in part because they are repelled by the ineffectiveness and broken promises of elected officials. But there is no shortage of citizens who hope new leaders might be able to relieve Haiti’s chronic poverty and political turbulence.
“Nothing will stop me from voting. We all have to step up and help solve Haiti’s problems,” said Mickenson Berger, who has been cutting hair on a Portau-Prince street corner since his barber shop was destroyed in the 2010 earthquake.
With the depreciation of the currency, the gourde, the cost of living has risen sharply. Haiti, the hemisphere’s poorest nation, is deeply in debt and public coffers are largely depleted. The southwest is in shambles from Matthew, which killed at least 1,000 people.
A voter casts her ballot in the Cite Soleil slum near Portau-Prince. Results aren’t expected for at least eight days.