Haitians Outraged by Voting Glitches
By Manuel Roig-Franzia
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, February 7, 2006; 12:57 PM
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Feb. 7 -- Angry crowds surged into cramped voting precincts in some of this city's poorest neighborhoods Tuesday, tussling with overwhelmed security guards and screaming their frustrations about long lines and delayed openings.
Voters are choosing among more than 30 candidates for president of this troubled nation, as well as selecting members of Haiti's national parliament. Former Haitian president Rene Preval is the front-runner in a race that seems to have narrowed in recent weeks to a handful of serious challengers, including former Haitian president Leslie Manigat and businessman Charles Henri Baker.
Preval's supporters were among the most outraged voters early Tuesday, arriving to find closed voting precincts in some
neighborhoods. At a polling place near the sprawling slum, Cite Soleil, thousands of voters gathered hours before the 6 a.m. scheduled opening, but had yet to cast a single ballot by 11:30 a.m. Police and election officials there said they had no voting materials and, regardless, would not be able to start the balloting until they were able to control the unruly crowd.
Jesula Juste, her eyes red from crying, begged for someone to help her as the crowd jostled forward. The 67-year-old woman arrived at 4 a.m., carrying her new voting card, but was told her name did not appear on a voter register.
"I'm weak, I'm thirsty, I'm hungry," she said.
While flash protests were assembling and disassembling in some of Port-au-Prince's most downtrodden areas, such as the downtown slum Bel-Air, voting appeared to be proceeding in an orderly fashion in more prosperous neighborhoods. But even in those sectors, many lines stretched for blocks and vendors pushing carts with the syrup-flavored
crushed ice drink called Fresco were doing a brisk business.
Haiti, for the first time, had issued voter identification cards prior to the election in an attempt to avert the chaos and violence that had accompanied previous balloting. But glitches with the new system were appearing throughout the morning.
Bands of voters marched through the streets, waving voting cards and complaining that their precincts were closed, leaving them with nowhere to vote.
"We need to vote," Emmanuel Noel, 31, screamed as he marched down a street in Bel-Air. "We have a card, but we can't find a place to vote. They're trying to keep out the people and give the election to bourgeoisie."
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