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Haitians Go to Polls in National Elections

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Renee Marie Nanoune casts her vote in the School of the United States of America polling station in the Canape-Vert neighborhood in Port-au-Prince, Feb. 7, 2006. Jean-Cyril Pressoir hide caption

toggle caption Jean-Cyril Pressoir

Haitians cast ballots to elect a new leader, nearly two years after President Jean-Bertrand Aristide went into exile after a violent uprising. More than 3 million registered voters are being encouraged to cast ballots despite recent violence.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

After months of delays, voters in Haiti are choosing a president and a legislature today. The vote comes amid widespread lawlessness. But the U.S. and other nations spent about $60 million to make this election credible. Now officials are hoping voter turnout will justify the effort. NPR's Corey Flintoff is the capital, Port-au-Prince.

(Soundbite of radio skit)

COREY FLINTOFF reporting:

That's the opening line of a radio skit that's been heard all over Haiti for the past week. The woman, Jeanine(ph), calls through the window of her friend, Elifat(ph) to wake him up on voting day.

Unidentified Man: (As Elifat) (Through Translator) Jeanine, I don't think I'll vote today. It won't make any difference whether I vote or not.

FLINTOFF: But Jeanine insists. She points out that Elifat's vote, combined with hers, combined with the neighbors, could help their candidate win the election. Elifat is convinced.

(Soundbite of radio show)

FLINTOFF: It's a message that agrees with Elias Tombo(ph), unemployed at the age of 48, and sitting with his friends in front of the church in the Platz St. Pierre.

Mr. ELIAS TOMBO: (French spoken)

FLINTOFF: He says his vote will make a difference. He says the country is shaking. It's been failing for five years. Things can't go on like this, and there has to be a change. Tombo's friend, Aribeir Suse(ph), isn't so sure. He's a 58-year old mason, out of work, and he didn't bother to register.

Mr. ARIBEIR SUSE: (French spoken)

FLINTOFF: I was discouraged, he says. I didn't want to vote, because I've been voting for a long time and I've never gotten anything from it.

August Ekinom(ph) gets angry. He has his voting card, but says he's disgusted with the candidates and won't use it.

Mr. AUGUST EKINOM (Through Translator): I've registered, but I'm not going to vote. I tore the voting sticker off my card because I won't vote. I can't stand those guys. They're assassins.

FLINTOFF: The officials involved in the election are, well, officially optimistic. The commander of the U.N. military force says voters will be safe from violence. The head of the Electoral Council says they'll be free from vote fraud. And the American Charge d'Affaires in Haiti, Ambassador Tim Carney, says this.

Ambassador TIMOTHY CARNEY (United States Charge d'Affaires, Haiti): I don't think there's any doubt that this is going to be the best election Haiti has ever had.

FLINTOFF: That, of course, is in the context of a country with a history of a lot of bad elections. Still, Carney says the election officials are on their way to meeting a lot of challenges. First, more than three million people have gotten voting cards. Second, the logistical arrangements have been made to get them to the polls. Third...

Ambassador CARNEY: You have a security effort to minimize disruptions that spoilers, men of violence, may try to get into. And fourth, we've got a huge, some would argue too huge list of candidates who can represent the diverse views of the electorate itself.

FLINTOFF: The American Embassy says the U.S. is one of the biggest donors to the current effort, with support worth more the $30 million. Even with that and with about the same amount from the international community, Carney acknowledges that a lot can go wrong.

Ambassador CARNEY: There will be glitches. It is going to be by no means perfect.

FLINTOFF: Officials say as many as 3.1 million people could vote, and every day the radio exhorts them to use their voting cards.

(Soundbite of radio program)

FLINTOFF: Potential glitches include the sheer difficulty of getting to the polls for some people in rural areas who may have to walk for hours. In some urban areas, critics say there aren't enough polling places, and voters may be discouraged by long lines. And in some areas, there's a very real threat of Election Day violence.

But the demand for change here is strong and so is the sense that an election is the only way to achieve it.

Corey Flintoff, NPR News, Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

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