Haiti Elects President As Cholera Spreads
LIANE HANSEN, host:
It's Election Day in Haiti, not quite a year since the island nation was devastated by an earthquake. And with more than a million still homeless, Haitians will select a new president today.
NPR's Jason Beaubien is outside a polling station in the capital, Port-au-Prince, and he joins us. Jason, what have you been observing? Hows the voting going?
JASON BEAUBIEN: The voting has been somewhat problematic. There are a lot of people that are having trouble finding exactly where they are supposed to be voting. Theyre coming to a particular polling place, and then theyre not finding their names on their list on the list there. Sometimes theyre being transferred to another place immediately after that. So theres definitely some frustration among people.
Several of the leading candidates have accused Jude Celestin, whos the establishment candidate - he's the protege of President Rene Preval's - theyre accusing his supporters of committing fraud. They still havent presented exactly what their evidence is of that, but they are making accusations that they are seeing systematic fraud throughout the country.
But it terms of the polling place Ive seen in Port-au-Prince, they opened late but they had the materials. People were lining up; people were calm. And it seemed like voting was happening once it did get going in the polling places that I saw in Port-au-Prince today.
HANSEN: There are 18 candidates who would like to replace President Rene Preval. You talked about some of the leading ones accusing one another of fraud. How many front-runners are there?
BEAUBIEN: Basically, there are three front-runners. There's Jude Celestin, who I just mentioned, the protege of Rene Preval; theres Sweet Micky, Michel Martelly -hes known as Sweet Micky he's a Haitian musician, very popular musician; and then theres Mirlande Manigat, whos shes 70 years old, shes a former first lady but shes got a lot of support amongst the people; shes been in politics before. Those are probably the three leading candidates.
And its really going to be difficult for, I think, any of them to get 50 percent during this round. And you need to get 50 percent in order to win it outright, in this round.
HANSEN: What have the candidates been saying to the people of Haiti?
BEAUBIEN: This campaign actually lacked a lot of substance. There was not a lot of debate about the issues. No one came forward and said, this is how I would rebuild the entire country. People were not saying - in this country of incredible poverty, you know, the country with the worst poverty rate in the Western Hemisphere how theyre going to tackle poverty.
Mainly, people were running on their personalities and on what they had done in the past. So it was a campaign that really did lack any substantive plans for how each one of these candidates would move Haiti forward.
HANSEN: Was there much violence in the days leading up to the election?
BEAUBIEN: There was some violence. There was some, but it was fairly limited. And even in terms of a shooting at a rally of Michel Martelly, just two days ago - but no one was injured in that. I think that theres been a lot more fear of violence than actual violence. Everyone keeps talking that the violence is going to come, that people are handing out guns, but it really has been relatively calm.
There have been some street protests and what some people have termed as civil unrest. But that was all aimed at the United Nations over the cholera situation. So in terms of the actual campaign: Yes, its tense; people are worried about violence. But so far, it really has been limited.
HANSEN: What happens if no one wins a majority?
BEAUBIEN: So if no one wins 50 percent today and we dont expect results right away but if no one gets that at these polls today, then there will be a run-off in January between the top two vote-getters.
HANSEN: NPR's Jason Beaubien in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, covering the election for a new president there today. Thank you very much, Jason.
BEAUBIEN: You're welcome.