Haiti Prepares for Presidential Vote
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Haiti holds a presidential election tomorrow. This will be the first democratic polling since former President Jean Bertrand Aristide left the country two years ago after a violent uprising. Four previous attempts at holding the elections have been postponed. Hundreds of international observers will be present for what many hope will be the first step in stabilizing the country. From Port-au-Prince, Amelia Shaw reports.
AMELIA SHAW reporting:
Chris Hennemeyer is the program director for IFES, a Washington-based democracy-building organization. He is leading a team of 24 international volunteers to observe voting in polling stations in Haiti's major cities.
Mr. CHRIS HENNEMEYER (Program Director, IFES): There are a lot of international observers here besides IFES. I think the figure is something like 250. In addition, there's supposed to be as many as I think 36,000 domestic observers. This will be a very closely watched election.
SHAW: Hennemeyer says observers shouldn't influence the process but just watch what goes on inside Haiti's 804 polling stations. Their first job, he says, is to see if the polls open on time.
Mr. HENNEMEYER: Then we follow the entire process. Somebody walks in the door, what happens? Are they given the correct ballots? Is their thumb inked? Has somebody checked to make sure they haven't voted already?
SHAW: Kareen Claremont(ph) is a local volunteer with Haiti's national network of observers. She's been a local election monitor since the late 1980's and says in Haiti Election Day is usually marred by violence and voting irregularities. She remembers Haiti's last national elections in 2000, when Aristide's Lavalas party swept the Parliament in what were later called flawed elections.
Ms. KAREEN CLAREMONT (Haitian Election Observer): (through translator) There were these people who would come and force you to vote for another candidate. There was no respect for a person's choice. That shocked me. They show up, they look at your ballot, see who you're voting for, then the next day we found the ballots thrown in the street. I don't know how they got there. They were supposed to be sealed in the ballot boxes and counted.
SHAW: Kareen says she hopes tomorrow's vote will not be contested or marred by violence.
Ms. CLAREMONT: (through translator) But I'm not going to lie to myself. We are in a very fragile situation that can explode at any moment.
SHAW: Many Haitians hope the high international presence here will keep things clean. The U.N. has provided considerable logistical support to the Haitian government, training election workers, transporting ballots and providing security at polling stations. Gerardo de Chevalier is Chief Election Officer with the United Nations here. He says that after four postponements, Haiti's electoral infrastructure is finally in place and the country is ready for elections.
Mr. GERARDO DE CHEVALIER (Chief Election Officer, United Nations): If you want to ask people in a hospital if they're ready or willing to leave, of course they all want to leave the hospital. Haiti has been in a hospital for 20 years. It's about time to get them out and let them work.
SHAW: Haiti succeeded with the first part of the challenge, he says, getting the population signed up for the vote. Nearly 90 percent of the eligible population has registered for their voter identity card, which for many people is the first time they have a photo ID.
Mr. DE CHEVALIER: Now comes the second part of it. Is these people who registered with enthusiasm going to vote with enthusiasm? I don't know.
SHAW: Haiti has 33 candidates on the ballot for president. It is unlikely that any one of them will receive the 50% of the vote needed to win the presidency. So a run-off election is expected in March. Many people feel that the real test for democracy is not going to be tomorrow's vote, but rather the Presidential face-off they're expecting next month.
For NPR News, I'm Amelia Shaw in Port-au-Prince.
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