Turnout Huge in Haiti Elections

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Turnout Huge in Haiti Elections

Post by T-dodo » Wed Feb 08, 2006 8:49 am

Voters battle obstacles to cast historic ballots

Voters overcame major obstacles to cast ballots in the first election since President Jean-Bertrand Aristide fled the country nearly two years ago.


PORT-AU-PRINCE - They set out from their slum before dawn, shadows walking through smoky darkness and arriving by the thousands to vote Tuesday for a new president who might deliver them from the bloodshed and hunger that is so much of Haiti.

By 7 a.m., some 5,000 stood in line outside the polling center at a motor vehicles bureau, knowing it would take hours, but determined to vote in the first election since President Jean-Bertrand Aristide fled into exile two years ago.

While the balloting was marr
ed early on by bureaucratic problems, the massive turnout from the slums -- filled with voters who consider the populist Aristide a savior -- was a dramatic glimpse of how Haitians in recent weeks came to embrace a four-times-postponed election they once doubted could bring any change.

''We need peace, so we can rest finally,'' said Manele Joseph, 55, who recently took refuge in a church because of the fighting around her home in the slum of Cité Soleil, where violence between gangs and U.N. peacekeepers has been so severe that a polling center could not be safely put there.

A quiet woman with sad, hooded eyes, she put on her church dress and a string of purple beads and began the one-mile trek to the motor vehicle bureau just after 3 a.m., joining some of the 60,000 registered voters in the slum who had to walk to the polls. While many taxi and jitney drivers stayed home amid confusion over whether they would be allowed to circulate, voters flooded the streets on foot.


''A stunning example of success for the Haitian people,'' said Tim Carney, the chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Haiti. ``They came out early, they braved the ragged initial disorganization and insisted on voting, and did.''

Fears that armed groups would attack polling places to derail the election proved unwarranted. Several deaths were reported, though it was not clear whether they were directly related to the elections.

But in the poorest country in the hemisphere, a country with a long history of election violence and a candidate for the world's list of failed states, the balloting for a president, 30 senators and 99 members of the lower chamber turned out to be notably peaceful.

The front-runner in the polls for President is Réne Préval, a former president and one-time protege of Aristide, followed by businessman Charles Henri Baker and former President Leslie Manigat.

One U.N. official who monitored the beginning of the vote counting Tuesday night at
a major polling station in the well-to-do suburb of Petionville -- where Baker and Manigat had been expected to draw their strongest support -- said that Préval had taken upwards of 70 percent of the vote there.

If no candidate gets 50 percent of the vote, there will be a runoff, scheduled for March 19.

The high turnout so early in the day, with most voters showing up right around dawn, caught electoral workers off guard. Many were unprepared and could not open the polling centers on time, creating tension at many sites, pandemonium at others.

At several polling places around the capital, voters stormed past some of the U.N. peacekeepers and Haitian police guarding the sites. But by the afternoon, most polling places appeared calm and voters were slowly moving along.

''Many voters came very early, and some of the centers, particularly the big ones, were overwhelmed,'' said Mark Schneider, a senior vice president of the International Crisis Group, here to observe the elections.
``But the patience of the Haitian people is formidable. And the will of the people to vote is truly impressive.''

Jean-Gilles Anite, 25, waited in line for 4 ½ hours in the lower-class Bel Air neighborhood to vote for Préval.

''It was no problem,'' she said. ``We need this country to change. But it's not only the new president that has to change things. The Haitian people have to change, to put our heads together and unite.''

Haitian officials, foreign diplomats and international observers held their breath during the chaos of the morning, but began to praise the process by the afternoon.

The turnout among the 3.5 million registered voters who cast ballots had not been determined by Tuesday evening because some of the polls that opened late were staying open past the scheduled 4 p.m. closing and still had voters waiting in line.

But one top U.N. advisor in Haiti estimated the turnout at 70 percent or higher.

The votes were expected to be counted overnight, a
nd the tally sheets were to be sent to a tabulation center in Port-au-Prince by midday today . Because many polling centers are isolated -- 180 can only be reached by mule -- final results are not expected for two days.

But reports from around the nation of 8.1 million indicate turn-out was high everywhere, including Gonaives -- a port city in the north that spawned the revolt against Aristide, a former priest now living in exile in South Africa.

Aristide engendered hope among the poor when he won Haiti's first truly democratic elections in 1990. A military coup toppled him in 1991, some 20,000 U.S. troops returned him to power in 1994 and he was elected in 2000 to a second term -- during which he enlisted slum gangs to protect his government.

When he was ousted again in 2004, U.S. Marines and now some 9,000 U.N. peacekeepers arrived to keep order -- a situation that troubles many in this nation that is so proud of its status as the second free republic in the Americas.

ic foul-ups caused frustration around the country, mostly about voters' names that could not be found on registration lists.

''I'm a citizen, but I can't vote because they can't find my name,'' Rony Auderuste, 29, said at a Gonaives poll after waiting seven hours. ``I'm going home because they couldn't find my name.''

In Port-au-Prince, many of the voters had the same complaint, with some saying that they had to walk to two polling centers before they found the correct one.


Serge Gilles, a presidential candidate for the social democratic group Fusion, blamed the glitches on the electoral council and advisors from the United Nations and the Organization of American States.

''When I think of what I went through here today, as a presidential candidate, what will the Haitian people have to do to be able to vote?'' he said shortly after a police escort allowed him to negotiate the chaotic mass of people waiting to vote in the Port-au-Prince suburb of Peti

At the motor vehicle bureau, the first person in line was Marie-Ange Francois, a 20-year-old who is nine months pregnant and had to walk a mile to get there -- and then wait in line for hours. ''I came with her in case the baby breaks on the way,'' said her mother, Marie Joseph.

A little way back in line was Lucien Louis, a wiry 71-year-old Cité Soleil resident who shook violently like someone who suffers from Parkinson's disease. He walked with uncontrolled energy and relied on neighbors to keep from falling into the slum's open sewers.

But he wasn't going to miss the election no matter what.

''We can't eat, we can't sleep, there are bullets all over the place . . . I feel like I'm in the middle of a war,'' he said.

"This has to change.''


Post by T-dodo » Wed Feb 08, 2006 8:55 am

Here is an audio/video link of live reports of the elections directly from Haiti that was put on the Sun Sentinel website. Try it!

http://www.sun-sentinel.com/extras/grap ... ectionday/

[quote]South Florida's Haitians tune into Creole radio for news of elections

By Alva James-Johnson
South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Posted February 8 2006

If there was a clear winner on Haiti's election day, it was Creole radio.

South Florida Haitian-Americans desperate for news from their homeland received live coverage of the election Tuesday while purchasing groceries, driving vehicles and sitting at community centers with radios at full blast.

They heard the latest not only from Creole-speaking journalists in South Florida, but also from reporters and voters in Haiti who called in by cell phone.

"We never had that kind of c
overage before," said Daniella Henry, a community activist who spent the day as a commentator at a small station in Lantana. "There are more radio stations now and everyone was competing to give the news."

Haitian voters in the Caribbean country stood in line for long hours waiting to elect a new president and parliament, two years after Jean-Bertrand Aristide was overthrown in a violent rebellion. In South Florida, the Haitian radio community listened to the chaos and frustration. They also heard slum dwellers take to the streets of Port-au-Prince encouraging people to go to the polls with rhythmic Creole chants of, "Come on, let's go. We need relief. Let's go."

They heard tired and hungry people at the polls expressing their disappointment at organizers for failing to register voters at the right precincts.

Rarely, if ever, do South Florida Haitian stations broadcast an event live without interruption or popular music shows cutting in.

Fritzner Applys,
47, a Sunrise taxi driver, says the only time it happened was when Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier left the island for exile in France 20 years ago Tuesday. At the time, Haitians tuned in to the only station broadcasting in Creole -- WLQY-AM 1320, which was leased on an hourly basis.

Now, with at least three more stations at his disposal, Applys tuned in at 4 a.m. to hear the pre-election coverage.

"It urged me to wake up earlier," Applys said. "I listened to all those stations."

On WLQY, midday show hosts urged listeners to attend a demonstration organized by Véyé Yo, a pro-Lavalas group in Little Haiti. About 200 people gathered to celebrate an expected victory by Rene Preval, a former president.

Alex Saint Surin, of WHRB-AM 1020 Radio Mega in North Miami Beach, began broadcasting at 6 a.m. Tuesday, providing listeners with a steady stream of information until deep into the night. Haitian listeners trickled into the studio with food and drink for his
staff. "We had to tell them, `Look, this isn't a party here,'" he said.

Ed Lozama, host of Planet 17's morning show, was surprised at the response from listeners online. He said about 800 Web users checked out the station, WJCC-AM 1700, causing many to call the North Miami Beach station and complain.

"It was saturated," Lozama said. "It was our biggest volume ever."

Technological advances such as cell phones allow stations to stay in touch with correspondents in the most remote parts of Haiti, where Lozama's station had 16 working Tuesday. With the Web, surfers around the world who do not have a local Haitian news station can quickly find news out of Haiti.

"This is the most important election since the departure of Duvalier 20 years ago today," Lozama said."

Lesly Jacques, owner of Boca Raton's Radio Haiti-Amerique Internationale, began live broadcasts at 6 a.m., intersecting segments throughout the day with music, a la &qu
ot;World News Tonight."

He said Haitians were in suspense as they listened to the radio at work and at home, if only to hear whether things would go wrong.

"Haitians are living with a big hole in their hearts" Jacques said, "There are so many candidates and uncertainty."

Staff Writer Madeline Baró Diaz contributed to this report.

Alva James-Johnson can be reached at ajjohnson@sun-sentinel.com [/quote]

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