Photo: © Joris Willems
Haitians went to the polls Sunday to decide between a bad-boy singer and an elderly former first lady in a runoff election marked by delays and some irregularities by Jacqueline Charles and Frances Robles
PORT-AU-PRINCE — It was a day of missing ballots, late starts — and relative calm — in Haiti on Sunday, where a presidential runoff took place four months after a disastrous first round that saw widespread violence and contested results.
In some places, there were no ballots. In others, only dry ink to mark a voter’s finger. In many more, disenfranchised voters were turned away from polls and boisterous political party operatives got in the way.
But despite the irregularities, authorities said the day went smoothly, without the widespread fraud that marred November’s election.
“Democracy is on the brink of winning a big victory in our country,” said Gaillot Dorsinville, the head of the Provisional Electoral Council.
The second round pitted musician Michel “Sweet Micky” Martelly against former first lady Mirlande Manigat. Both candidates are considered right of center. Martelly is the dark horse candidate who enjoys the support of the nation’s youth, weary of the country’s old political guard.
The winner will replace René Préval, Haiti’s first democratically elected president to finish two terms without being toppled.
Preliminary results are expected March 31; final results will not be announced until April 16.
The elections took place two days after the return of former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who showed up after seven years of exile in South Africa. Many people worried that the former leader’s arrival would upset the race, cause some to sit out, change their choice of candidates or even take to the streets.
Voting appeared light in Port-au-Prince and Gonaives, where the only lines were at the poll stations that lacked the supplies to open.
“The political class hasn’t shown any results for Haiti,” said Kenold Thercy, a 34-year-old engineer who cast his ballot in Gonaives. “So the people think, ‘I will go with this other guy Martelly, who sings and dances and maybe he will do something for the country.’ He’s an embarrassment for Haiti. He’s going to sit down at a table with [French President Nicolas] Sarkozy or Obama?”
When Martelly showed up to cast his ballot, hundreds of jubilant supporters took over the streets. After Manigat cast her ballot, crowds chanted — for her opponent.
Charlemagne Achille, 25, who was unable to vote in November because he could not find his name on the electoral list, said Martelly represents the change Haiti needs.
“I want this country to move forward,” Achille said, standing outside Petionville High School. “We can’t afford to plunge deeper into misery.”
Police said at least one person was killed in Marchand Dessalines in the Artibonite Valley, where rival political party supporters shot at each other. Saying that the hip hop star Wyclef Jean had refused to meet with investigators, Haitian police were still trying to make sense of a report that he had been shot in the hand on election eve.
Seventy four voting centers out of 1,500, including the four largest in Port-au-Prince, were affected by logistical problems and missing material, the Organization of American States observer mission said. Voting in the capital was extended one hour to make up for time lost.
Colin Granderson, head of OAS observer mission, said the second round was “much improved’’ from the first.
“The atmosphere was calm and people seem relaxed,’’ he said.
In Thomassin, an affluent suburb in the hills of Port-au-Prince, poll workers at two neighboring voting centers arrived to find everything from ink to ballots was missing.
At one center with 22 polling stations, elections authorities sent ballots for senate races instead of for the chamber of deputies. There was no senate election in that district. There were 76 legislative races nationwide.
At the Port-au-Prince stadium, ballots arrived more than six hours after the start of voting, causing some voters to suspect the delay was a deliberate maneuver to dissuade people from voting.
Dozens of people were turned away from polling places in Gonaives when they couldn’t find their names on the master list. One Canadian elections observer noted that many of the people whose names were not on lists were over the age of 70.
Nadia Paul, the supervisor at the College Union de Gonaives downtown, said one poll booth list showed up three pages long. They’re usually up to 16 pages in length.
“That could be 100 or more people” not on the list, Paul said, waiting for authorities to come with another list.
Ladimene Lassere, the supervisor in a rural Poteau district, said no more than 50 people were turned away there.
“It’s a lot more than 50!” shouted back Ricot Desinor, a disenfranchised voter who lacked a government-issued I.D. card.
Minor bouts of disorder were repeated at stations throughout the country.
One man counted ballots, while a gallery of observers heckled him.
“I’m counting the ballots and he’s telling me I need to go faster. If I go faster, he’ll tell me I missed some!” the poll worker said. “Don’t talk so much. You’re confusing me.”
In most cases, there were more political observers and roving operatives present than voters. And in still other incidents, the observers were causing a ruckus amid accusations that they had helped sway vulnerable voters’ opinions.
“Don’t forget you need your mother!” three beefy guys told voters entering the La Sainte Famille polling station in downtown Gonaives, a reference to Manigat. In Port-au-Prince, Martelly’s supporters yelled and whispered “Tet Kale” – the bald one – as voters made their way in.
That’s illegal under Haitian electoral law.
At another polling station, a furious supervisor yelled at an observer who helped an illiterate man mark his ballot — but marked the box for the opposing candidate.
“A lot of people here are nothing, hired by nobody, and they’re telling people who to vote for – and they are changing people’s votes,” said Jean Paul Pierre, a party representative for a local legislator in rural Gonaives. “They’re big tough guys and nobody can stop them. They are there to cause confusion and be disruptive.”
At the Universitie Chretienne D’Haiti in Gonaives, poll supervisor Nadege Saint Louis said a local legislator’s operatives showed up with special permission slips that allowed them to vote anywhere.
They came again and again.
“They voted five times! That’s why we called the police: there were a dozen of them,” Saint Louis said. “They scratched the ink off their fingers, but you could still see the little stain.”
Fanfan Saint-Claire, a national observer supervisor in the capital, said some poll workers were not marking voters’ fingers in ink, allowing them to vote twice.
“The biggest problem we have is the ink,’’ he said. Voter Jhams(cq) Joseph, 30, shouted from Cite de Soleil polling booth to polling booth, demanding a ballot.
“I’m not going to act up, but I’m going to vote. They will have to give me a ballot,” said Joseph, a Martelly supporter.
After he cast his ballot, Joseph held up his fingers. Both thumbs were black, indicating he voted twice.