PORT-AU-PRINCE – On Sunday Haitians’ hope for a smooth transition to a new president were dashed as a series of missteps and miscalculations put the outcome on hold.
After widespread complaints by voters who said they couldn’t either find their names on the ballots, or coerced to vote for a candidate not of their choice, the opposition parties called for the cancellations of the vote.
But less than an hour after a dozen candidates made their demands during a news conference at the Karibe Convention Center in Petion Ville, Michel Martelly, asked that he be named president.
Martelly, who emerged as the overwhelming favorite in the final stretch, ran a brilliant campaign and confounded the political class who saw his campaign as quixotic.
Hip-hop star Wyclef Jean, who was barred from running for president , quickly joined forces with Martelly as they crisscrossed the metropolitan area demanding fair results, which would be Martelly. Charles Baker, another candidate also join the duo.
“I couldn’t have Wyclef, but I’ll take Martelly,” chanted a crowd of about 500 people near the Karibe Center during an impromptu march. “I’m sick and tired of the status quo.”
If the outcome of the vote is clouded, what is clear is that the people are frustrated with the administration of Rene Preval on two main fronts, his failure to provide leadership after the January earthquake and his inability to bring back Jean Bertrand Aristide back to Haiti.
When Preval was elected in 2006, the masses who still adore Aristide, thought they were voting for the exiled president clone and within months Aristide will make a triumphant return to the troubled Caribbean nation.
And so bitterness against Preval grew. It reached a boiling point when Preval made few public speeches and showed little emotion as millions of people slept under tents on the streets. These encampments have become somewhat permanent nearly a year later.
“I urged him to be in the eye of the storm, show some emotions connect with people,” said a former cabinet minister. “But he didn’t listen. He listens to no one. This is sad.”
What is sad is the “shellacking” that Preval’s handpicked candidate, Jude Celestin, suffered on Sunday. Scores of people interviewed in at least a dozen voting stations said emphatically that they were voting for change and they were frustrated with Preval said that they would be voting against whoever he endorses.
“I don’t want them at all,” said a man at a voting poll at Lycee Toussaint, referring to Celestin and Preval. “I’ve been to at least four centers looking for my name and each one I can’t find my name. But you know what, am not going to stop. I can’t let them govern me anymore.”
Celestin’s yellow and green posters and banners blanketed the capital city and the countryside. Bankrolled with more than $2 million war chest, he got the endorsement of Roots, Konpa and many other musicians who wrote little ditties for Celestin and recorded endorsement messages that filled the airwaves up until Friday the last day that candidates were legally allowed to campaign.
But Celestin, whose educational background and personal foibles – he is alleged to have fathered 13 children with eight different women – became too much to overcome and Martelly emerged as the favorite son as the other candidates fizzled.
At least a week ago, polls, showed former First Lady, Mirlande Manigat with a steady lead over the other 18 presidential candidates. Celestin was in second place with Jean-Henry Ceant and Martelly behind.
But many political experts had questioned these numbers because Manigat, a political scientist and a eminent intellectual, did not appear to connect with the urban poor, which is the bellwether in Haitian politics.
“What tanked her is that Martelly publicly accused her of taking money and materiel from Preval,” said Claude Roumain, a long time political operative who ran unsuccessfully for president in 2006. “That’s not true. But you know it doesn’t matter for the people. Preval see in her as someone who he can do business with unlike the other candidate.”
Roumain said that Preval’s bitterest of opponents have called for his arrest or exile for fraud and other misdeeds. That has shaken the lame duck president who has repeatedly said that he has no intentions of living in exile.
On Sunday morning despite the problems at the polls, the streets remain calm and there were few incidents. But when it became apparent that the disorganization was widespread, tensions rose a bit and United Nations troops and Haitian National Police officers were dispatched throughout the capital to monitor protests. There were reports of shooting in the southern city of Aquin, leaving two dead and a dozen wounded, according to Radio Signal FM.
International observers estimated that less than 30 percent of the four million people registered actually voted on Sunday. About 200,000 people of voting age died during the earthquake and another half a million is estimated to have left Haiti since then. Thousands have left in the last week to avoid the anticipated violence. The United States embassy here urged American citizen to leave the country before the vote.
Still, the Provisional Electoral Council, or CEP as its known by its French acronym, declared the vote a “success” and said that the results will be released within a week or so, as scheduled. “We’re going to look in a case by case the places where there were problems,” said Pierre-Louis Opent, the CEP executive director. “In 48 to 72 hours we will decide what to do. During the voting fever of the day, some voters didn’t find their voting stations.”
Martelly, who promised to keep his supporters on the streets, called the elections an electoral coup d’etat and said he will contest the elections if he is not declared the winner.
Holding these elections, which cost roughly $30 million, has been a source of contention among many people who wanted a provisional government rather than a vote when it was clear that the vote will be marred by logistics and other operational problems with much of the schools and other buildings that are used as voting stations were destroyed during the earthquake. Furthermore, the voting rank has been decimated because of death and departure after the earthquake.
But with more than$10 billion pledged for reconstruction, most foreign governments wanted a legitimately elected government with which to work and rebuild the destroyed capital city.