Les Cayes, Haiti: Haiti held a long-delayed election on Sunday amid scenes of devastation in parts of the country, with voters hoping a new president would boost the economy after a destructive hurricane and more than a year of political instability.
Some early reports said a candidate backed by Haiti‘s last president, Michel Martelly, had taken the lead in early voting tallies, although the party of another former president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, said its nominee was headed for victory.
Electoral authorities said they did not expect to have preliminary results from the vote until Monday.
First held in October 2015, the election was annulled over allegations of fraud. A rescheduled vote was postponed last month when Hurricane Matthew struck, killing up to 1,000 people and leaving 1.4 million needing humanitarian aid.
“We are in a political crisis. We need an elected government to get out of this situation,” said 19-year-old Launes Delmazin as he voted for the first time in a school in Les Cayes, a southwestern port ravaged by Matthew.
There were a number of reports of voting fraud on Sunday in Haiti, but election observers drew a broadly positive picture of the process, with initial findings suggesting it had passed off more smoothly than last year.
Some radio stations broadcasting from polling stations said Jovenel Moise, the candidate of Martelly’s Bald Heads Party, an entrepreneur who had been tipped to win by one recent opinion poll, was leading the count.
Calvin Cadet, a former director of the communications ministry under Martelly, said Moise was on track to win 64% of the vote.
However, Aristide’s Fanmi Lavalas party said its candidate, Maryse Narcisse, a doctor, had a majority.
Other prominent candidates in the running include the one-time boss of a government construction company, Jude Celestin, and former senator Moise Jean-Charles.
Scarred by hurricane
Homes, schools and farms across southwestern Haiti have all been scarred by Matthew, which piled fresh misery onto the nation of more than 10 million on the western half of the island of Hispaniola still recovering from a major earthquake in 2010.
In Port-au-Prince and elsewhere, some people complained they were unable to vote because their names did not appear on lists at the polling stations, while others said that when they tried to vote they were told somebody had already done it for them.
Electoral council president Leopold Berlanger said the vote had been a success overall. However, he noted there had been several arrests and an attempt made to burn a polling station in the southeastern district of Marigot.
Martelly left the presidency in February and a transition government has run the country since then.
Unless one candidate secures more than 50% of the vote or wins by at least 25% points, a second round run-off is in prospect for the top two finishers on January 29. The victor is scheduled to take office in February.
Officials worried the effects of Hurricane Matthew had depressed turnout in a country where democratic participation is generally low, and political leaders urged Haitians to vote.
In Damassin on the southern coast, house after house was covered with tarpaulins, downed trees lined roads and the polling center, a school, was filled with debris and had no roof, forcing officials to move the vote to a small blue tent outside.
“The country has been destroyed,” said Luc Albert Jean-Claude, a 74-year-old farmer as he cast his vote in Damassin. “We want the country to return to a normal state.”
To safeguard voting in a country with a history of electoral violence, around 13,000 officers from the national police and the UN were mobilised. Haitian police said 43 people were arrested for interference in the election.
Still, Citizen Observatory for Institutionalising Democracy (OCID), a group observing the elections, said in an initial review that most polling stations were operating normally and that they had logged fewer than a quarter of the number of complaints registered at this point in October 2015.