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Haiti's elections - the poor want Préval
Although Tuesday's elections in Haiti passed off in relative peace, there were some chaotic scenes, with ballot papers failing to arrive and some voters having to stand in line for hours before they could actually exercise their democratic right.
"I want to vote now. I want to change Haiti," was the desperate call from one woman at a polling station near the slum district of Cité Soleil in the capital, Port-au-Prince. She and thousands of others waited for hours, initially quite patiently, but when it turned out that the polling station was nowhere near being ready at six in the morning, the crowd stormed the building. It didn't help. Inside there was no sign at all of any ballot papers or any boxes to put them in.
One of the people responsible for the polling station, Sony, said it had been clear on the day prior to the elections that Haiti was in for a chaotic day: "Yesterday, everything went wrong with the planning. We didn't even know where the polling station was meant to be." Polling station is a grand word for the location finally used: the bare skeleton of the ground floor of an unfinished apartment building.
Most of the people waiting outside came from Cité Soleil itself, where it was not possible to vote because the UN peacekeeping force wasn't able to guarantee security at polling stations. However, some people claim that it was all a plot: "They don't want us to vote for René Préval."
Mr Préval is the absolute favourite to win the battle for the presidency. He's already served in that office and was once the protégé of another - now exiled - former president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Although he's since distanced himself from Aristide, Mr Préval enjoys great popularity among exactly the same poor sections of Haiti's population.
"Préval can give us jobs, food and security," was the comment from one voter. But can Préval also do something to combat the armed groups which make areas such as Cité Soleil unsafe and get most of their money from the innumerable kidnappings for which they are responsible? The same voter has an answer: "Why do those guys have weapons? Because they don't have work. Préval will sort that all out."
Finally, the missing items arrived at the makeshift polling stations. Self-assembly ballot boxes in large cardboard containers. Some of the cardboard was subsequently used to make improvised booths and tables. The crowd moved further forward, with people pushing and shoving and shouting abuse.
Throughout the day, the polling stations were busy, even those in the 'better parts' of the capital. Nearly all of them stayed open a few hours longer than originally planned. The head of the UN election observers, Belgian Johan van Hecke, said it was sad that the elections had ended up going this way, but added, "On the other hand, people have been voting in massive numbers, after all. Moreover, with four people dead and dozens injured, it's all passed off relatively peacefully."Sabotage
Mr Van Hecke doesn't believe technical problems were the only reason for the chaos that surrounded the elections, or the fact that they were postponed four times:
"I've noticed that numerous people have attempted to sabotage this process. Political considerations probably also played a role." He also thinks there was a severe lack of cooperation between the various organisations involved, including the UN, the Organisation of American States and the electoral commission.
And it's these circumstances which pose the main problem for the immediate future. If René Préval is indeed declared the presidential victor, either now or after a possible second round of voting, his opponents will have numerous reasons to raise doubts about the elections. On the other hand, if Préval doesn't turn out to have done as well as expected, his supporters in the slums districts will rise up.
Johan van Hecke wishes it could have been different
:"These motivated, nice Haitians deserve much better organised elections."