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      Long-Overdue Haitian Elections Marked by Violence and Delays

      Long-Overdue Haitian Elections Marked by Violence and Delays Long-Overdue Haitian Elections Marked by Violence and Delays Long-Overdue Haitian Elections Marked by Violence and Delays
      Image of legislative elections in Haiti in 2006 via Wikimedia Commons

      Haiti

      Long-Overdue Haitian Elections Marked by Violence and Delays

      By Pierre-Louis Caron

      Some 20 polling stations were forced to close early Sunday, after the first round of Haiti's long-delayed parliamentary elections turned violent.

      According to the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) — the commission tasked with overseeing the election — four percent of the country's 1,500 polling stations were "affected" by various disruptions.

      Local daily Le Nouvelliste reported that protesters had knocked over polling booths in three of the stations, scattering ballots on the floor. In other stations, voting was slowed down by major administrative delays.

      The vote — which has been delayed for four years — went ahead despite a tense political climate, with 1,855 candidates vying for 139 seats in parliament.

      For many Haitians, access to a polling station can be as difficult as access to clean water or electricity in a country where infrastructure is still crippled by the devastating 2010 earthquake that killed upwards of 230,000 people.

      During a press conference on Sunday evening, CEP president Pierre-Louis Opont said that the unrest had prevented 290,000 of Haiti's 6 million registered voters from casting their ballots. The CEP is due to meet Wednesday to discuss whether a new round of voting will be scheduled for areas where voting was hindered by violence.

      Despite the disturbances, the CEP said it was "overall satisfied" with the election — a sentiment echoed by Haitian Prime Minister Evans Paul, who commended the work of the country's police force.

      Paul announced on the eve of the election that an extra 12,000 police officers would be mobilized throughout the country to "take action against troublemakers."

      Officials were determined to avoid the chaos of the 2010 presidential elections, when protesters took to the streets of Haiti's capital Port-au-Prince over rumored electoral fraud.

      Speaking in New York on August 7, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon described the election as "a major milestone for democracy" in Haiti. Haiti's police are being supported by 2,500 UN police and 2,370 peacekeepers from the MINUSTAH — the UN's stabilization mission in Haiti. The Haitian government has also allocated $16 million to election security and political party financing.

      The parliamentary election is the first step in a long political process, which will also see Haitians voting for "1,280 representatives for local administrations, 140 mayors and for the president" by the end of 2015. The parliamentary election will restore the country's parliament, which was dissolved back in January.

      According to a survey carried out by the Haiti Press Network (HPN), nearly 54 percent of surveyed Haitians said they intended to "perform their civic duty" in the first round of voting, with a further 24 percent claiming they were "not interested in the elections."

      Twenty percent of voters said they did "not know enough" about the candidates.

      Haiti's National Human Rights Defense Network (RNNDH) said it had observed "physical assaults, assassinations and beatings," since the start of the electoral campaign. According to the RNNDH, many in Haiti's political class have blatantly flouted the rules of "fair play," thereby fostering a violent and poisonous atmosphere in the lead-up to the election.

      In a report released on August 5, the RNNDH said that three men had been shot on July 22 as they were putting up posters in a town in the west of the country. Four other campaigners were reportedly injured during the attack, which was carried out by three unidentified individuals who fled the scene on a motorcycle.

      The long-awaited election has been postponed several times since 2011, when Haitian musician Michel Martelly was elected president.

      The lead-up to this year's elections consisted mostly of a face-off between the country's two main political parties — former President René Préval's Vérité (Truth) party and Martelly's PHTK (Parti Haïtien Tet Kale) party.

      Over the past few months, Haiti has faced a massive influx of thousands of refugees from the neighboring Dominican Republic, as the Dominican government cracks down on Haitian immigration. According to the World Bank, Haiti is the poorest country in Latin America.

      The results of the election's first round are expected to be released within the next ten days, before a second round runoff.

      Follow Pierre-Louis Caron on Twitter : @pierrelouis_c

      Topics: haiti, port-au-prince, martelly, elections, parliamentary elections, polls, violence, unrest, earthquake, evans paul, minustah, vice news france

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