PREVIEW: Haitians to vote Sunday in security coloured zones
By Silvia Ayuso Nov 26, 2010, 20:32 GMT
Port-au-Prince - Neither the devastating quake that killed more than 230,000 people in January nor the spreading cholera outbreak that has claimed over 1,600 lives have managed to prevent Sunday's general elections in Haiti.
But given the country's legacy of political violence and escalating violence before the vote, election organizers have colour- coded voting zones as red, yellow or green to help police and UN troops decide how much security to deploy.
Voters will choose their next leader in the hope he or she can lead the poorest country in the Americas out of its recent and endemic problems.
More than 4.1 million Haitians are registered to vote. They will choose a president from 18 candidates to follow the unpopular outgoing President Rene Preval.
Doubts have been cast upon the election process. Yet the international community has insisted it should go forward. In a country that depends almost entirely on foreign aid, the declarations have carried a lot of weight.
Also on the ballot are 912 candidates from 66 political parties who are bidding for legislative seats. Eleven seats in the Senate and 99 seats in the lower house are up for grabs.
Allegations of likely fraud are rife. But there's a general consensus in the international community that while manipulations cannot be ruled out, they will be 'very difficult.' That outlook predominates from the UN Stabilization Mission for Haiti (MINUSTAH), to the Joint Electoral Observation Mission of the Organization of American States (OAS) and the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).
Opinion polls give top billing to conservative Mirlande Manigat, 70 - who was first lady for a few months in 1988 before her husband Leslie Manigat was toppled by a military coup.
Behind her in the polls is ruling-party candidate Jude Celestin, 48, virtually unknown beyond being Preval's candidate - a mechanical engineer with a low political profile who has worked with Preval for over a decade.
Popular music star Michel Martelly, 49, better known as 'Sweet Micky,' brings up third place in popularity. He is a star of the Haitian popular music style known as Kompa and an outsider in politics who says he believes the love and the confidence of the people as his main assets to become president.
Although Haiti is hardened to disaster and misfortune, the events this year topped most years: the January earthquake that destroyed much of the capital, including the government palace, and displaced 1.5 million people who lost all their belongings and most of their documents; and the cholera epidemic, which threatens up to 400,000 Haitians unless there is a stronger response.
Many Haitians blame the outbreak of cholera on Nepali MINUSTAH troops - stationed in Haiti since 2004 to quell a political upheaval - although UN forces have denied any involvement.
Outrage against MINUSTAH has grown and become virulent. Many define it as an 'occupying' force, at a time when it is playing a crucial security role for what is hoped to be a transparent and safe election - an elusive goal in the minds of many Haitians.
Violent protests against MINUSTAH, particularly in Cap Haitien, claimed five lives last week, while two more people were killed in election-related violence this week.
Those who call for an election boycott, mostly followers of former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide who resigned in 2004 under international pressure, had vowed to heat up the campaign. The threats have not yet materialized, and MINUSTAH chief Edmond Mulet said there is 'a lot less violence' this year than in prior Haitian elections.
'The dispositions that have been adopted allow us to ensure that the election takes place in an atmosphere of serenity,' said MINUSTAH police commissioner Gerardo Chaumont.
Mulet recalled that elections are always hard in Haiti, but he stressed that now is as good a time as any to hold them.
Provisional results are expected to be issued on December 7, with the official results coming 13 days later. If neither of the candidates gets over half the votes, there will be a runoff in January, a virtually unprecedented development in Haiti for which all bets would be off.
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