Voting in a New Haiti


Haitians will vote in presidential and parliamentary elections on Sunday. The new leaders will determine whether and how soon a functioning nation emerges from the rubble of January’s earthquake.

Holding a peaceful, credible vote is always difficult in a country as poor and turbulent as Haiti, but this one faces staggering challenges beginning with the fact that 1.3 million people are still displaced. There is also a spreading cholera epidemic and, in recent days, there have been violent protests that United Nations officials have condemned as politically motivated mischief.

The job of election planning and logistics has been led by the Organization of American States and the 15-nation Caribbean Community, with the United Nations security force and Haiti’s National Police charged with maintaining security at polling places.

While international officials say they are making good progress at setting up voting sites and training poll workers, reports from the ground suggest that there is still a lot of work to do to ensure that Haitians know where to go and what to expect on election day. The presidential ballot — with 19 candidates — will be daunting, for voters and counting.

President Rene Préval, who is not eligible to run again, has a huge responsibility to assure that these elections go smoothly and are seen as legitimate. In the aftermath of the quake, Mr. Préval failed to provide desperately needed leadership. His refusal to make decisions — even on such basic issues as where to build new housing — has slowed the relief effort.

Haiti’s brush with Hurricane Tomas and the cholera outbreak seemed to shake him into action. He needs to be out every day, urging calm and cooperation. He also needs to tell members of his Unity party that any effort to meddle with the vote or count will not be tolerated.

The few polls taken are hard to trust, but the list of leading candidates includes Mirlande Manigat, a constitutional law professor and former senator and first lady; and Mr. Préval’s choice, Jude Célestin, chief of the national road-construction company, which had the grim task of clearing corpses and rubble after the Jan. 12 earthquake. Other contenders are: Michel Martelly, a kompa musician known as Sweet Micky; the businessmen Jean-Henry Céant and Charles Henri Baker; and a former prime minister, Jacques-Édouard Alexis.

With a field this large, odds are that no one will get the required 50 percent of the vote and there will be a runoff. Mr. Préval and world leaders will need to make sure that that process moves ahead credibly.

The Haitian people have shown admirable form.


Author: `