Haiti Elections Off to Slow Start
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) _ With longer lines at water taps than ballot stations, Haiti’s first free election in five years got off to a slow start Sunday.
Some polling stations were shut with no officials in sight when voting was supposed to start at 6 a.m. At others, people were unpacking stacks of ballot papers while lines of a dozen or more voters waited patiently outside.
Campaigning for the U.N.-supervised vote, which will pick 101 national legislators and 2,000 local officials from more than 10,000 candidates, was largely free of violence.
Supporters of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide are expected to sweep the balloting, as he did in 1990 in Haiti’s first democratic elections. The voting Sunday is a prelude to a December presidential election.
Some 10,000 polling stations were set up throughout the country, monitored by 1,000 international observers and U.N. troops and police. Election officials plan to dip voters’ fingers in indelible ink to prevent them from voting twice.
Results aren’t expected for eight to 10 days because all the ballots have to be counted by hand.
Confusion reigned at many polling places. In Carrefour, just west of the capital, a gunman attacked a voting station, wounding an electoral worker, said Alexandre Gerin, a spokesman for the Electoral Council.
``Yes, there are some security problems and transport problems, but on the whole it is very tranquil across the country,″ said Sylvie Moncion, spokeswoman for observers from the Organization of American States.
Several voting stations in and around Port-au-Prince and the northern town of Dondon couldn’t open because voting materials were not delivered, according to Moncion and radio reports.
A scuffle erupted at a voting station in the capital’s Terrace neighborhood when a candidate accused electoral officials of trying to influence voters, witnesses said.
A similar charge was made in Cite Soleil, a densely populated Port-au-Prince slum.
``Some employees are showing the illiterate voter not how to vote, but who to vote for,″ said Jean-Pierre Dufort of the Assembly of Popular Organizations, a coalition of neighborhood groups.
In the Delmas section, hundreds of angry voters built a barricade of tires and blocked a U.N. truck carrying ballot papers because the name of a legislative candidate was missing.
``It’s fraud! It’s fraud!″ they yelled as they knocked boxes of ballot papers off the truck and stamped on them. U.N. troops from Canada, France and Nepal got the ballots back.
In the northern towns of Limbe and Borgne, where voting stations were attacked Saturday, elections were postponed until July 23.
In Bas Limbe, also in the north, police were called in after 200 people staged a peaceful protest march because their names weren’t on the voters’ list, although they had registration cards, Moncion said.
Port de Paix legislative candidate Josue Lafrance was arrested Saturday, and weapons were seized at his home, because ``he was so unruly and threatening,″ said U.N. spokesman Eric Falt.
Falt said Lafrance, an anti-Aristide legislator, was upset that his name had been printed on ballots for a neighboring district instead of his own.
In Petionville, a middle-class suburb, about 200 people lined up outside a polling station at Guatemala High School.
``We’ve got a lot of patience, if it means patience for freedom. And today we’re going to make certain that our freedom has arrived,″ said Sylvestre Menezil, 70, waiting outside the school.
Across the city, dozens of people whose homes don’t have running water lined up for the morning ritual of collecting water from communal taps and carrying it home in buckets and plastic bottles.
``Later, we’ll vote later,″ they said.
About 3.5 million voters, 90 percent of the estimated electorate, have registered. There are 28 political parties and 100 independent candidates.
In 1990, Aristide was elected amid a popular revolt against the dictators whose greed and brutality ruined this Caribbean island nation.
Nine months later, an army coup forced Aristide into exile, beginning a three-year reign of terror.
President Clinton threatened to invade in September, frightening Haiti’s military into surrendering. A U.S.-led multinational force disarmed and disbanded the Haitian army, and returned Aristide in triumph in October.
A successful election would support Clinton’s decision to intervene, unpopular with many because it restored a left-leaning leader whose criticism of American policies only changed when they worked in his favor.
``Given the fact that this country has had such little experience with democracy, I think they’re doing tremendously well,″ said U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., a member of a team of observers sent by Clinton.