Polarized Haiti votes in tense presidential election

AP News
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Posted: Oct 25, 2015 7:07 PM
Polarized Haiti votes in tense presidential election

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — Haitians faced lengthy ballots featuring 54 presidential hopefuls and a slew of legislative and municipal candidates Sunday as they selected leaders they hope can lift the nation out of chronic poverty and turbulence.

The presidential field was so crowded and confusing that there was little clarity about who might be leading as voting wrapped up in late afternoon. Pre-election polls were unreliable and contradictory, and partial results were not expected for at least 10 days.

Voting was relatively orderly across the nation of some 10 million people, although there was some confusion and logistical problems.

At a voting center in Port-au-Prince's Martissant slum, an elections supervisor repeatedly yelled at dozens of people trying to force their way in. "No voting two times!" People shouted back that they were being prevented from voting once.

"I'm here to vote, and they are trying to stop me," complained Varnel Polycard, a vendor of phone chargers who walked away fuming.

Each of Haiti's more than 120 parties was allowed to send monitors to polling places, where they got their own voting done early. At a polling center in the Petionville suburb of Port-au-Prince, monitors shoved one another in a voting line and masked police gave the unruliest partisans in line short zaps with a Taser.

But balloting was generally tranquil in many parts of the country, though there were sporadic reports of irregularities and roughly 70 arrests. Officials had no immediate estimate of national voter turnout.

Celso Amorim, chief of the Organization of American States' 125-member observer mission, offered few specifics as polls closed but said Haiti appeared to be "moving in the right direction." A Haitian human rights group with its own electoral observers agreed Sunday's vote went much better than the messy legislative first-round in August.

While the gritty district of Cite Soleil suffered from pre-election violence, it appeared to have the busiest voting centers in the Port-au-Prince area.

"Nothing can scare me from trying to see my country develop and see if Haiti can get better for my grandchildren," Rosianne Jean said after casting her votes at a school in the deeply poor area of shacks and garbage-lined canals.

The continuing appeal of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was on display as over 1,500 people greeted him when he arrived at a voting center near his home, many chanting "Aristide is our blood." The former leader has mostly been living quietly since returning to Haiti after seven years in exile following his 2004 ouster but has lately urged support for the candidate of the party he founded decades ago, Fanmi Lavalas.

He accompanied party candidate Maryse Narcisse to vote, but some Aristide loyalists in the crowd said they were backing ex-Sen. Moise Jean-Charles.

Whoever wins the almost inevitable Dec. 27 presidential runoff will face numerous challenges, including spurring Haiti's chronically sputtering economy and weaning it off dependence on foreign aid donors, who are largely funding this year's roughly $70 million three-round electoral process.

Among the best-known names on the presidential ballot was Jude Celestin, a former head of the state-run construction company who was the government-backed candidate in the 2010 race. That time, he was eliminated from a runoff after his reported second-place finish was challenged by foreign observers who complained of irregularities.

Others included outgoing President Michel Martelly's pick, Jovenel Moise, a political newcomer who has called for restoration of Haiti's army and pledges to expand the agriculture sector, and Jean-Charles, a sharp critic of Martelly who brands himself the voice for Haiti's poor and disenfranchised.

It is more than 5½ years since Haiti suffered an earthquake that was one of the worst natural disasters of modern times. Roughly 5.8 million voters registered to cast ballots for the next president, 129 lawmakers and a slew of local offices.

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