Haiti hopes election will end chaos, violence

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Almost six years after an earthquake devastated Haiti, the Caribbean country remains plagued by crisis. On Sunday, Haiti is to elect a successor for hapless President Michel Martelly as well as a new parliament, but the outlook remains grim.

Compared to its recent history, Haiti has done well over the last five years: The country has largely been spared by natural disasters, and the president, whose successor is to be elected Sunday, has not been ousted by riots or a coup.

Even reconstruction after the earthquake that killed more than 200,000 people in January 2010 is slowly coming along in the capital, Port-au-Prince, and thousands of people displaced by the disaster were recently able to leave the tents that had been their emergency accommodation since then.

Yet Haiti is far from doing well. The poorest country in the Americas is dependent on foreign aid, and poverty and violence dominate life on its streets.

To make matters worse, Haiti is going through a major political crisis. When around 6 million registered voters head to the polls in Sunday’s presidential and legislative elections, the international community will be hoping for improvements in a country that seems to be forever in trouble.

Former singer Martelly has been in power since 2011, but he has failed to deliver significant change. Haitian law forbids incumbents from seeking re-election.

After first-round elections on August 9 decided only a few seats, voters in Haiti will also decide legislative runoffs on Sunday. The election, with two-thirds of the Senate’s 30 seats and all 119 seats in the Chamber of Deputies at stake, had been more than three years overdue.

A dispute in the Senate had prevented the election from being held earlier, and all mandates for the national legislature had expired in January, leaving Martelly to rule by decree. Sunday’s election even taking place actually constitutes good news.

“Haiti needs governing institutions that are legitimate and representative, and those cannot come into being without free and fair elections that take part without intimidation, without violence,” US Secretary of State John Kerry said during a brief visit this month to Haiti.

International donors have cause for concern in Haiti. Investors and tourists are rare, and Haiti’s political elites are not really helping.

More than 50 candidates are competing for the presidency, and the campaign has been overshadowed by violence.

Haiti, a country of 10 million people that shares the island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic, has more than 58 per cent of its population living under the poverty line.

Opinion polls are unreliable in Haiti but point to Jude Celestin as the favourite to win Sunday’s first round, though the scheduled December 27 runoff appears likely between the top two vote-getters.

The charismatic candidate of the LAPEH party, Celestin already ran in November 2010 as the protege of then-president Rene Preval. After finishing just ahead of Martelly for the second spot in the disputed first round, Celestin eventually dropped out amid alleged irregularities, and Martelly won the March 2011 runoff.

A potential run-off between Celestin and the candidate of Martelly’s party PHTK, young businessman Jovenel Moise, could be tricky. According to opinion polls, Moise is up against populist former senator Moise Jean-Charles for a spot in the run-off.

Martelly’s term expires in early 2016. The orderly election of a successor could count as a success, albeit a small one.

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