After lengthy drift, Haiti votes for new leader


PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — Haiti’s repeatedly derailed presidential election finally got underway on Sunday more than a year after an initial annulled vote as the nation tried to get its shaky democracy on a sturdier track.

Clutching their national identification cards, citizens patiently waited as numerous voting centers opened well after the 6 a.m. scheduled start. Voting routinely starts late in Haitian elections.

“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.

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 crowded field somehow manages to win more than 50 percent of the votes.

No results are scheduled to be released for eight days, and electoral council 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.

Results of an October 2015 vote were annulled after a special commission reported finding what appeared to be significant fraud and misconduct.

Most Haitians typically stay away from the polls, in part because they are repelled by the chronic ineffectiveness and broken promises of their elected officials. But some remain 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 devastating 2010 earthquake.

Haiti has had a caretaker government for nearly a year, and the new president will face a slew of immediate and long-term 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 and one of the most unequal in the world.

“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.

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. The European Union withdrew its monitors in frustration after officials annulled results from the 2015 vote.

As always with Haitian elections, security was a concern. A total of 2,026 U.N. police officers and 1,468 peacekeeper troops were assisting nearly 9,500 members of Haiti’s national police force.

Another 5,400 security agents were hired by the Provisional Electoral Council to help keep order at voting centers.

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David McFadden on Twitter: www.twitter.com/dmcfadd

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