Presidential voting goes ahead against a backdrop of disease and fraud accusations.
On Sunday, the first round of voting for the presidential election took place despite twelve of the eighteen candidates calling for it to be postponed. The Provisional Electoral Council (CEP), the nine-member body responsible for running the elections, called for calm and reaffirmed that the elections would go ahead despite the cholera epidemic on the island. Pierre-Louis Opont, the Director General of the CEP confirmed that any rumours of cancellation were untrue: “Although the cholera epidemic is quite preoccupying, not once has the Provisional Electoral Council met to discuss such an eventuality.”
The twelve candidates, including the front-runners Mirlande Manigat and the singer Michel Martelly, widely known as “Sweet Micky”, have accused the government and the CEP of plotting in favour of the Lespwa/Inité party currently in power. Manigat, the 70 year old former first lady of Haiti and candidate for the Rally of Progressive National Democrats condemned the “kidnapping of the elections.” Singer Wyclef Jean, who for a time was rumoured to be running for the position, protested in the streets of Port-au-Prince on Sunday afternoon alongside Manigat.
The voting got off to a delayed start. Essential materials remained locked in a central office until 11am. Violence ensued as people were unable to find their names on the electoral role, despite having registered. In the northern provinces of Acul-du-Nord and Trou-du-Nord, six offices were ransacked by crowds of frustrated citizens armed with machetes. “Ballot sheets were thrown all over the place and the head of the local office took the decision to call off the voting” declared the Mayor of Trou-du-Nord, Jacques Gustave. These were not isolated incidents: in the Ouanaminthe region, three activists were arrested, accused of filling ballot boxes with extra cards marked for Inité.
Whatever the outcome, any new president faces a country in turmoil. Ten months after the earthquake reaching 7.5 on the Richter scale, 1.5 million people are still sheltering in makeshift tents. The cholera epidemic is rife, as detailed in a new report issued on Friday by the Minister of Health. The report, which encompasses the period from 20th October to 24th November counted 1,648 deaths and total number of people who have been affected by the bacteria at 72, 017, of whom 31, 210 have been hospitalised. After Fidel Castro promised to send 300 Cuban doctors to help address the situation, the UK has followed suit. Andrew Mitchell, the Minister for International Development, underlined “dangerous gaps in the provision of urgent medical materials and a huge lack of medical personnel” and the British government has pledged to fund the training of one thousand Haitian doctors and nurses, as well as the provision of extra sanitary and medical equipment.