Tuesday 28 February 2017

Chaos and gunfire as Haitians cast votes

Kim Sengupta in Port-au-Prince

Haitian musician Wyclef Jean talks to the media before voting in Port-au- Prince yesterday. Photo: Reuters
Haitian musician Wyclef Jean talks to the media before voting in Port-au- Prince yesterday. Photo: Reuters

THE disappearance of ballot boxes, voters kept away from polls by cholera and gunfire at a leading candidate's rally marked Haiti's first elections yesterday since its devastating earthquake.

Within hours of the polls, especially significant in the aftermath of the devastating natural disaster that claimed more than 230,000 lives and left 1.3 million homeless, there were accusations and recriminations amid widespread claims of malpractice.

With preliminary results due to be announced at short notice, runners for the presidency and parliamentary seats declared that the flawed process would not be acceptable.

The fear of widespread violence resulting from a political impasse led to a stream of people, already internal refugees, moving out of their vast tented camps in the capital, Port-au-Prince, for what they considered to be the relative safety of the countryside.

Health officials expressed concern that any large scale move away from the cities would hamper the attempts to control the spreading cholera epidemic, which has killed around 2,000, with another 29,000 receiving treatment.

Many of those who had turned up at polling stations claimed they had been disenfranchised. At Cite Soleil, a ghetto of desperate poverty, there were also claims that activists for rival candidates were taking advantage of the lack of literacy among the local electorate to steal votes.

Paul Lernier, a 42-year-old mechanic, could not find his name on the register, despite having the appropriate documents. "Look, I have got the papers here," he cried, waving them. "But they say that this name may not be mine, it may be of a dead person. I have other proof, but they will not accept it. Yet I have seen at least four names of people who are certainly dead. I went to the funeral of one of them."

At nearby Lycee Fritz-Pierre Luis polling station, Antoine Carlos said he did not want to hide the fact that identities of the dead had turned up in the voter's register. "This is a sobering situation, it seems fraud is being carried out to make sure there is not an election but selection by some people."

Intimidation

The four leading candidates out of a field of 19 have all accused each other of buying votes and intimidation. Massive amounts have been spent by the rivals, with Jude Celestin, the successor chosen by the outgoing president Rene Preval, reportedly using up a war chest of close to $20m (€15.07m).

The opinion polls put Mr Celestin neck and neck with Michel Mantelly, a former cross-dressing Kampa jazz artiste also known as "Sweet Micky"; and Marlinde Manigat, a 70-year-old academic and the wife of former president Leslie Manigat, who was deposed in a 1988 military coup. Charles Henry Baker, a millionaire industrialist, is said to be trailing behind.

On the eve of polling, Mr Mantelly said an attempt had been made to assassinate him at a public meeting.

Mr Martelly's side blamed supporters of Mr Celestin, who has campaigned on "stability" and "law and order", for the attack. Mr Celestin has denied this. (© Independent News Service)

Irish Independent

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