International observers have described Haiti’s general election as a “step forward,” although Haitians are casting their ballot amidst sporadic violence. At least two people were killed during voting on August 9, with police closing 26 polling centers midway through the voting following violence.
According to police, a group of unidentified assailants ransacked multiple polling stations as supporters of different political parties clashed over entry into polling booths. Long queues and lengthy delays also angered voters, many of whom waited for hours to exercise their right.
“Despite some incidents of violence, it is a step forward,” said the Organization of American States (OAS) in a statement. The OAS is one of the international organizations acting as observer in the ongoing elections.
Although a small country, Haiti seems to have launched a sort of election marathon. The second round of legislative elections is set for October 25, and the first round of presidential and local elections will take place at the same time. The ongoing legislative elections are designed to elect people for Chamber of Deputies and two-thirds of the Senate.
Analysts say a high number of candidates and the presence of too many parties in the fray are the cause of confusion. More than 1,800 candidates from 128 registered parties are fighting over 139 posts in the legislature.
The political parties also appear to suspect each other of fraud. On election day, representatives of candidates insisted that they should all be given seats inside the polling centers, although the venues appeared too small to accommodate so many people. According to reports, many of these representatives were worried that someone might rig the election. Denied entry into polling stations, some representatives shouted insults, while others tried to ransack the centers.
Elections were long overdue in Haiti, where President Michel Martelly has been ruling by decree since January when parliament was dissolved. Haiti urgently needs to strengthen its democratic institutions to attract foreign investment, something the Caribbean country is badly in need of to recover from the 2010 devastating earthquake.
Martelly is barred from running again. But it is not yet clear if he will run in the presidential elections scheduled for October. Instability is another serious problem in Haiti, with the country’s infrastructure being too weak to attract investment and create jobs.
In a report last Wednesday, the National Human Rights Defense Network said it recorded nine armed clashes, five murders, two attempted murders, two stabbings, and 10 cases of beatings. On the eve of the elections, police arrested some 20 people in central Haiti for possession of illegal arms.
“Although there have been incidents in some polling centers, these problems have generally been corrected,” Elena Valenciano, head of the European Union’s observation mission, told AFP.
Haiti is home to 10.3 million people, but only 5.8 million people have registered to vote. The United Nations says it has deployed 2,500 police and 2,370 peacekeepers to make sure that elections are free and fair.
By the end of October, Haiti will elect nearly all of its political representatives: deputies, senators, mayors, local officials, and a president. If everything went according to the plan, lawmakers will take office on January 11, 2016, and Martelly will hand over power to his successor on February 7, 2016.
The Caribbean country was supposed to go to polls in October last year, but a key legal proposal related to electoral process hit a roadblock, triggering street protests across the country.
In April 2014, the United States threatened to withhold US$300 million in aid if there were no elections. Even the United Nations said it was finding it extremely difficult to go ahead with its Haiti Stabilization Mission, known locally as MINUSTAH.