VICE News, October 26, 2015
After violence and fraud marred legislative elections in August, voting was significantly smoother throughout the country as Haitians went to the polls to elect a new president on Sunday. A total of 142 mayoral positions were also up for grabs, and second round elections were held for deputy and senate seats where the vote had not been cancelled in August.
"Decisions were taken to increase the security," which led to a decrease in violent incidents, said the head of the Organization of American States observation mission, Celso Amorim, expressing his satisfaction with the process thus far. Heavily armed, masked police officers were visible throughout the day in Haiti's capital city, Port-au-Prince and surrounding communities.
Of 119 races for deputy, 25 had to be re-run after voting centers were ransacked or votes were thrown out due to fraud in the chaotic August vote. In three of Haiti's ten departments, final senate results were postponed pending the outcome of the electoral reruns. But on Sunday, only 8 centers were closed, according to the government.
Haiti has had no parliament since a political crisis sparked its dissolution last January, meaning the legislative vote is crucial. Haitians are also hoping the new president can bring an end to the poverty and chaos that plague the poorest country in the Americas.
Prime Minister Evans Paul took to the radio in the afternoon to congratulate the police on the improvements. Criticized for passivity during the last election, the police took an active roll in maintaining order in polling centers.
Around 15,000 officers and United Nations (UN) peacekeepers were on duty, reported the BBC. The UN said 224 arrests were made, including a candidate for the lower chamber of Deputies and two Haiti National Police officers. In Cap-Haitien, Haiti's second largest city, an individual was arrested with 73 voter ID cards.
The head of the electoral council, Pierre Louis Opont, thanked the police for learning from August's experience. "Today the police were up to the task," he said. Opont called on political parties to remain calm and show patience while the votes were tallied.
Bruny Watson, a voter in the Cite-Soleil neighborhood, said he didn't vote in August "because there was too much violence," but he was determined to cast his ballot for president on Sunday. Turnout was a paltry 18 percent in the first-round election legislative election, but Amorim cited reports from observer teams throughout the country that indicated a significantly higher turnout this time around.
US congressional representatives John Conyers (D-MI), Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), and Frederica Wilson (D-FL) were also in Haiti to observe the vote. The US has contributed $30 million to an electoral process that is expected to cost more than $70 million.
The three were among 61 members of congress to write to Secretary of State John Kerry to "send a clear message to the Haitian government underscoring the need to guarantee the security of voters."
"What I saw today filled me with optimism about the future of Haiti," Rep. Conyers told VICE News. The youth of Haiti had filled the polling booths, both as workers and voters, he said, adding that the majority "approached the process with seriousness and goodwill to support the democratic process.?"
Still, problems cropped up throughout the day. Many centers were late to open and in some areas Haitians were unable to find their names on voter lists. In some cases, there simply was nowhere to vote.
In Wharf Jeremie, one of the largest polling centers in August was simply gone, leaving residents unsure of where they were supposed to vote. Building 2004, another large voting center, was also non-existent on Sunday.
In Canaan, a sprawling hillside slum home to hundreds of thousands of people, including many of those displaced from the devastating earthquake that struck Haiti nearly six years ago, voters sometimes had to travel miles to the nearest voting center.
Once again, political party monitors were a source of tension and possible fraud. At 6AM a long line had already formed outside the Horace Etheard voting center in the Solino neighborhood. In Haitian elections, political parties' representatives, called mandataires, are allowed to monitor the vote inside polling centers. More than 100 were in line jockeying for position before the doors even opened.
One monitor was arrested at the Dumersais Estime voting center. Police caught him with two passes from two different political parties. Monitors were also witnessed exchanging passes outside centers, hoping to have multiple people vote with the same pass.
In another center, a monitor was kicked out after voting three times, according to poll workers. Some were not there to monitor at all. "They paid me to be a mandataire," one monitor from the Fusion party commented, "but I'm voting Fanmi Lavalas today," he said, while milling about outside a voting center.
Unlike in August when the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) failed to distribute enough accreditation passes to every party and allegations of favoritism were heard throughout the day, on Sunday, monitors from a plurality of parties were present and appeared to outnumber voters at many centers in the capital, occasionally overwhelming poll workers.
Because of the additional police forces expected to be present, many observers were optimistic that election day itself would be improved from August, yet pointed out that that is not the end of the process.
"It was better than August 9, but at the same time we must be very careful when it comes to the counting of votes and what happens at the tabulation center over the coming weeks," said Pierre Esperance of the National Human Rights Defense Network (RNNDDH). RNDDH is part of a coalition of civil society groups that had more than 1,800 observers present throughout the country.
As night fell on Sunday, poll workers and political party monitors were still counting votes at the 13,725 voting booths throughout the country.
Preliminary results are not expected until at least November 3, though many expect it to take even longer as votes are collected from rural areas throughout the country and brought to the central tabulation center in Port-au-Prince. There, technicians will determine which votes count and which are discarded due to fraud or other irregularities.
Haiti's electoral decree bans the publication of any results until an official announcement is made. The transparency and perceived fairness of the counting process is likely to be the ultimate test of the election's success.
Though public opinion polling in Haiti is notoriously unreliable, most observers agreed that the presidential race had come down to a handful of frontrunners out of the field of 54. A total of 128 political parties are fielding candidates for all the seats and positions being elected.
Swiss-educated mechanical engineer Jude Celestin, who was eliminated from the 2010 presidential race after international pressure, is expected to perform well in the presidential election. Current president Michel Martelly's handpicked successor Jovenel Moise, who owns a banana exporting business, and outspoken government critic Moise Jean Charles are also expected to come out on top.
On the campaign's final day, twice-ousted former president Jean Bertrand Aristide made a rare appearance to campaign with Fanmi Lavalas candidate Dr Maryse Narcisse, giving supporters hope that Haiti may elect its first female president. No candidate is expected to achieve enough votes to avoid a run-off on December 27.
"Today the Haitian people have exercised their right to vote," the ex-senator and presidential candidate Moise Jean Charles told VICE News. "I hope that the CEP will respect their vote, and we wait for the results. Myself, as a candidate with a progressive vision for our country, hope to have gained the country's confidence to begin working on the social and economic changes that Haiti needs."
But while most eyes were on the presidential race, the effects of the electoral debacle in August on legislative races will have a significant impact on the next government. Local human rights groups have raised concerns about candidates who were involved in electoral violence and fraud yet were not sanctioned or kicked out of the race. No party is likely to obtain a majority of seats, leaving a divided government no matter who wins the presidency.
Jake Johnston is a Research Associate at the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) in Washington D.C. He is the lead author for CEPR’s Haiti: Relief and Reconstruction Watch blog.