Haitian elections “satisfactory” amid arrests


Polling stations have closed in Haiti after a day of voting for a new president and parliament in the hope of ending a months-long political deadlock.

Prime Minister Evans Paul said the day’s events had been “satisfactory,” but also said on Twitter that more than 70 people had been arrested in violence and on suspicion of electoral fraud.

The first round of the legislative vote on August 9 was marred by violence and bureaucratic problems.

That election decided only a few seats, making Sunday’s vote crucial to restore a regular separation of powers in Haiti, where President Michel Martelly has been ruling by decree.

Opinion polls are unreliable in Haiti, but point to the charismatic candidate of the LAPEH party, Jude Celestin, as the favourite to win Sunday’s first round.

A run-off looks likely between the top two candidates and would be held December 27.

Official results are not expected for at least a week.

Most polling stations closed on schedule after voters in some areas complained that they had opened late, the Miami Herald reported.

Around 6 million people were registered to vote in an election that is in itself a major feat.

Prior to the election the international community was concerned about voter turnout. Only about 18 per cent of the registered voters cast their ballots in August.

In a preliminary report before polling stations closed, EU observer Elena Valenciano said more people appeared to be showing up to vote Sunday.

Martelly cast his vote in the Liceo Petionville neighbourhood of Port-au-Prince. The elections were set to choose his successor and members of parliament that has sat empty for 10 months.

A dispute in the Senate had prevented the election from being held earlier, and all mandates for the national legislature expired in January, leaving Martelly to rule by decree.

Haitians have little confidence in their corrupt political elite. In the past, coups and riots have often led to government changes in the country.

“This country needs radical change in the way politics is done, well-known Haitian intellectual told dpa.

Martelly, a former singer, has been in power since 2011, and his term expires in early 2016. Haitian law forbids incumbents from seeking re-election, and more than 50 candidates are competing for the presidency.

Celestin previously 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 would likely pit Celestin against young businessman Jovenel Moise, the candidate of Martelly’s PHTK party, or populist former senator Moise Jean-Charles.

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 and is still suffering the consequences of the earthquake that killed more than 200,000 people in January 2010.