Hard-hit Haitians go to polls in pres­i­den­tial race

Vot­ing seems to be go­ing well 6 weeks af­ter killer storm

Baltimore Sun - - WORLD - By David McFad­den

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.

HEC­TOR RETAMAL/GETTY-AFP

A voter casts her bal­lot in the Cite Soleil slum near Por­tau-Prince. Re­sults aren’t ex­pected for at least eight days.

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