Haiti political news
Supporters of opposition political parties march in Port-au-Prince, on September 9, 2015 (AFP Photo/Hector Retamal)

Port-au-Prince (AFP) – Presidential campaigning began in Haiti Wednesday, where 54 candidates are vying for the top office amid heightened criticism of the country’s electoral commission.

The record number of candidates, all of whom hope to replace President Michel Martelly as leader of the Americas’ poorest nation, will square off in Haiti’s October 25 first-round vote.

The election season began with a few hundred protesters rallying against Haiti’s Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) in the capital of Port-au-Prince.

The Council has been bitterly criticized since deciding to repeat legislative elections across nearly a quarter of the country after an August 9 vote was plagued with violence and fraud.

Many people are questioning the body’s ability to organize polling, particularly after it refrained from releasing final vote tallies for areas where the election was carried out peacefully.

“The CEP is under the political influence of certain sectors and parties,” said Pierre Esperance, executive director of a national network of human rights groups.

Meanwhile, Haiti’s largest opposition party, Verite, said Tuesday it was withdrawing from the process, refusing to “endorse an electoral mess that will enhance instability and dictatorship,” according to its leader Joseph Genard.

However, it was unclear if all of its candidates, particularly those who were likely to have been elected, would withdraw.

Haiti’s legislative elections were marked by massive voter malaise, with only 18 percent participation.

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