Haitians vote on Sunday for the first time in four years, selecting a new lower house of parliament and two-thirds of the Senate in a test of stability for an impoverished country continually rocked by political turmoil.
Haiti’s parliament dissolved in January after scheduled legislative elections in 2011 and 2014 were canceled. The previous presidential election, which began in 2010 and carried over into 2011, was marred by low turnout, violence and a delayed, disputed runoff.
Since January, the 119-member Chamber of Deputies has sat empty, and the Senate, with only 10 of its 30 members, has failed to field a quorum.
President Michel Martelly, who cannot run for re-election, has ruled by decree, for example appointing all the country’s mayors in the absence of municipal elections.
“Credible, inclusive, translucent and fair elections are key to long-term stability in Haiti,” Sandra Honore, the Special Representative of the U.N. Secretary General in Haiti, told Reuters on the eve of the vote.
More than 1,800 candidates from dozens of parties are running, and preliminary results are expected in six to 10 days. Poll are scheduled to be open from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Prime Minister Evans Paul has candidates running from his KID Party, Martelly’s PHTK has dozens running throughout the country, and former President Rene Preval’s Verite Party has plastered signs throughout the West Department province.
Runoffs are set for Oct. 25, the same day as the first round of presidential voting.
Polling is notoriously inaccurate in the Caribbean nation, and election observers expect low turnout, in part because of widespread confusion about where people might be registered to vote.
Following a violent campaign, the election will test the Haitian National Police, which has taken full control of security during election season from U.N. forces and will have 7,000 of its 11,900 officers on duty on election day.
“The eyes of the country will be on the Haitian National Police, and they will be heavily scrutinized,” Honore said.
The U.N. Stabilization Mission in Haiti has slashed its numbers to 2,370 blue-helmeted soldiers and 2,601 U.N. police, down from a peak of 13,300 soldiers and police.
The National Network for the Protection of Human Rights reported five election-related assassinations from July 9 to Aug. 2, with seven people wounded by gunshots, two by machete, and 17 by stone-throwing.
SOURCE: Reuters – (Reporting Peter Granitz; Editing by Daniel Trotta and Matthew Lewis)