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Haiti: Voting under the gun
Hopes for a peaceful return to democracy were quashed Tuesday when tens of thousands of voters were literally turned away from the polls in Haiti’s first presidential election since the violent ouster of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide by a group of demobilized Haitian soldiers, drug traffickers and convicted human rights offenders.
Pre-election polls showed that former President René Préval, who served from 1995 to 2000 as a member of the Lavalas party and is now leader of the Lespwa political party, was the frontrunner with 37 percent of the popular vote. His closest contender, businessman Charles Baker, was a distant second with only 10 percent in independent pre-election polls.
The bulk of Préval’s support comes from the middle and lower income populations and from members of Lavalas. But early reports indicated that the bulk of Port-au-Prince’s population was effectively barred from voting by polls that were moved without notice, polling stations that did not open, and by what one international observer termed “intentional and systematically created chaos.”
Human rights attorney Evel Fanfan from the Association of University Graduates Motivated for a Haiti with Rights described it as an “electoral coup d’état,” saying, “At area 2004, where the Electoral Commission without explanation had transferred the voting center for Cité Soleil, (there were) more than 80 voting booths for 400 voters each, giving a total of 3,200 voters a space designed only for 1,000 people.
“It was the Tower of Babel, total confusion for voters with cards in their hands searching in vain for their names. No list of names was posted … the voters looked high and low to find an explanation, and there was no one in charge present,” he said.
Before results were even in, Bay View people on the street reported voting problems in Port-au-Prince and violence at the polls.
Steve, 43, driver: I drive my friend’s tap tap (communal bus) on two routes in Delmas and up from Petionville, so I see things. I was up the hill in Fairmont and Kenscoff, where the bourgeoisie lives. Their polling places were clean and well organized. They had many election workers and people to help you find your polling place. On the wall you could see the list of voters.
I drove to Nazon. It was chaos. The people were waiting in huge lines all day. There was no one to help them. There were no voters lists posted. A man went to ask where he should go to vote, and the election worker sent him away saying they had no time for him. He protested, and police came and a policeman hit him in the face with the butt of his gun. This man was being peaceful at that moment, and I saw this crime against him with my own eyes!
Poor voters waited in apparently endless lines like these outside Sonapi polling station in the industrial park, while wealthy voters had plenty of clean, well staffed polling stations that opened on time.