BY JACQUELINE CHARLES
Voting got off to a slow start Sunday as Haiti finally held its long awaited legislative elections to restore parliament and end President Michel Martelly’s one-man rule.
Voting was halted at at least three centers in the capital where opposition political party monitors accused elections supervisors of only taking monitors from parties close to President Michel Martelly.
Some also accused election workers of letting people vote twice, or telling them who to vote for.
“They are whispering in people’s ear to vote for the Bouclier candidate,” Jean Paul Bastien, a monitor for the Alternative Party, said at Petionville Lycee.
Moments later, police were forced to stand between an angry crowd and election workers, as the crowd screamed, “There will be no elections here,” and threatened to shut down the voting.
“We told them, to do one election on Oct. 25, to give them time to prepare,” Bastien said.
At Ecole Nationale Isidore Boisrond, things got so tense that Haitian National Police officers were forced to fire shots in the air after partisans of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide accused Martelly’s PHTK supporters of trying to stuff ballots in favor of their candidates. Ballots were later torn up and thrown on the ground. The center soon shut down.
At the voting center at Rue Vaillant, scared elections workers fled while the supervisor locked himself inside a classroom after the crowd overpowered police and went inside. Voters said election workers were preventing opposition monitors from observing the process.
At Ecole Nationale Hermann Heraux, election workers couldn’t start the voting two hours after polls opened.
“The Chimeres are preventing us from working,” assistant elections supervisor Sophonie Augustin said inside an empty classroom. “The police can’t handle the situation.”
Four Haitian National Police officers assigned to the center stood in the doorway preventing the screaming men from gaining access. “This voting center is shut down,” one screamed.
“Voting has been eliminated for the day,” another said.
Herbie Josne, 29, accused Augustin of only allowing supporters of the political party Bouclier, which is close President Michel Martelly, to work the center.
“In the seminars, they said, you shouldn’t be a member of the political party,” he said. “She’s only allowing people from Bouclier and those with pink bracelets work. That’s not right.”
Augustin said only those who are on a list are allowed to work the center.
A day before the vote, it became clear that elections officials weren’t completely organized, raising questions about how the day would go and whether the Provisional Electoral Office (CEP) will extend the voting past 4 p.m. because of the late start time.
Late Saturday, the CEP issued a communique saying that technical difficulties preventing the printing of passes for political party monitors. They were asked to report to the closest departmental elections bureau to get accredited. But early Sunday, reports trickled into radio stations that some political party monitors were being prevented by monitors from President Michel Martelly’s PHTK’s political party from observing the process.
Meanwhile, late set-ups at many voting centers prevented some from receiving voters at the 6 a.m. start time. Meanwhile, voters didn’t seem in a rush to go vote. No long lines, and at some centers, no voters.
The international community, which is helping to finance Haiti’s $74 million elections price tag for three elections this year, has urged Haitians to vote. But concerns about violence is helping fuel a climate of apathy. The lack of election fever could been seen around the country, where many voters wondered about police ability to take control of the country’s elections.
Some 7,000 Haitian police officers have been deployed across Haiti to provide security for the elections with assistance from the United Nations. On Saturday, police officers in Grand’Anse prevented the burning of a departmental elections bureau after political party supporters protested.