Haitians vote on new president with hopes of renewed democracy

World Today

Haiti’s repeatedly derailed presidential election got underway more than a year after an initial vote was annulled. ( AP Photo/Dieu Nalio Chery)

Millions of Haitians have cast their votes in the country’s long-delayed presidential elections. The ballot—a re-run of a disputed previous vote held in 2015—has been repeatedly delayed, most recently because of last month’s Hurricane Matthew. Since February, Haiti has had a caretaker President.

CCTV’s Stephen Gibbs reports from Port-au-Prince.

Haitian elections

Haiti is a country that has been in political limbo for months. On Sunday in Port-au-Prince voters waited a little longer, as people patiently queued to cast their vote. Many voters said they were determined to put the country on the right footing.

“Of course it is the elections that will guarantee the political stability. If there are no elections there can be no political stability,” one voter said.

“There is a generation of Haitians that feel that they have lost the past 25 years and now we have to give hope to the next generation. And this is one of the first steps. Hopefully this election is accepted and the result is final,” a voter said.

There are 27 candidates for President on the ballot–fewer than the 54 who stood the last time this election was held in October 2015. The result of that election was later annulled, after evidence of fraud emerged.

Haiti revamped its electoral authority, and the election is being closely observed by international observers. Leopold Berlanger, president of Haiti’s Provisional Electoral Council, told reporters that authorities were “satisfied” with how election day was progressing even though balloting could not take place in two isolated districts. He also said some people complained they couldn’t find their names on voter lists.

“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 volatile slum on the edge of Port-au-Prince where voting sometimes has devolved into chaos.

The New York-based rapper, Wyclef Jean, who once put his name forward as a presidential candidate, is also in Haiti, telling CCTV he flew out to the country to help get out the vote.

“I want the voters here to know that their vote counts. It is very important that you understand that you vote counts and you can’t take nothing for granted,” Jean said.

The Haitian government, one of the world’s poorest, spent 25 million dollars setting up this vote. There had been fears that it would again be postponed; as much of the country is still recovering from last month’s Hurricane Matthew.

But Haiti decided that an imperfect election is better than no election.

Democracy is a relatively new concept in Haiti, and nobody expected the election to go entirely smoothly. But, so far there have been few reported incidents. 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. Across the country of over 10 million people, there were 18 arrests by early afternoon.

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 in her life because she’s had it with all the testosterone in Haitian politics. She believed 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.

Most Haitians have stayed away from the polls in recent elections, in part because they are repelled by the chronic ineffectiveness and broken promises of their elected officials. But there are no shortage of citizens who are hopeful 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 Port-au-Prince street corner since his barber shop was destroyed in the 2010 earthquake.

Haiti has had an anemic caretaker government for nearly a year, and a new elected president will face a slew of challenges.

With the depreciation of the currency, the gourde, the cost of living has risen sharply. Haiti is deeply in debt and public coffers are largely depleted. The southwest is in shambles from last month’s Hurricane Matthew and parts of the north have been battered by recent floods.

Haiti is the poorest nation in the hemisphere.

“Public institutions remain weak, and life-crushing poverty remains the daily reality of most of its citizens. Environmental degradation has left the population and the country’s productive infrastructure highly vulnerable to shocks,” said Robert Maguire, a Haiti expert who is an international affairs professor at George Washington University.

In Bel Air, a rough hillside neighborhood of shacks in downtown Port-au-Prince, men said their biggest hope from a new administration was simply regular garbage collection.

“All I know is the next government needs to start picking up the trash around here again. Under the interim government, we’ve had no garbage collection here at all,” said Nicolas Michel, a high school math teacher and a part-time welder.

A revamped Provisional Electoral Council, known as the CEP, has gotten high marks for organizing Sunday’s vote with some $25 million from the government. It replaced a council that was marred by internal discord and widespread allegations of fraud.

“So far, this CEP has done a good job. Their credibility is very high,” said Rosny Desroches of the Haitian group Citizen Observatory for Institutionalizing Democracy, which had 1,500 observers monitoring the national vote.

Delegations from the Organization of American States and the Caribbean Community were also watching the election.

Some information in this report is from The Associated Press.