Haiti votes amid turnout and security concerns (2nd Lead)
Nov 28, 2010, 15:33 GMT
Port-au-Prince - Haitians were voting Sunday in key presidential and legislative elections whose winners will face the formidable task of rebuilding a country shattered by the January earthquake and a raging cholera epidemic.
The 11,181 polling stations were to remain open from 6 am (11 am GMT) until 4 pm (9 pm GMT).
However, three hours after polling stations were due to open, some of them were still closed, to the alarm of voters who were waiting to cast their ballots.
'We want to vote! (President Rene) Preval has voted and we haven't,' one voter complained at a polling station near Port-au- Prince airport.
It was not clear how many of the 4.7 million eligible voters would be able to cast their ballots, given that many were still waiting on Saturday to receive identification cards allowing them to vote. Many Haitians lost their identity documents in the January 12 earthquake.
Another obstacle was the cholera epidemic, which could also persuade fearful citizens to stay away from polling stations, observers said. The epidemic has already claimed more than 1,600 lives, and shows no signs of subsiding.
In some places - above all camps for people displaced by the earthquake - many people did not even know where they needed to go to exercise their right to vote.
Nevertheless, national and international authorities have expressed confidence that turnout would be high.
'People will vote, we can see that, the motivation is there, I can see the will of the Haitian people to vote and to take their destiny into their own hands,' Edmond Mulet, head of the UN Stabilization Mission for Haiti (MINUSTAH), told journalists on Saturday.
There have been calls for postponement and even a boycott, given the chaos after the January quake that killed more than 230,000 people and the cholera outbreak.
But the international community pushed for the elections despite predictions of mass fraud, threats of election-related violence and clashes between protesters and UN troops which claimed five lives only last week.
Mulet said he was 'very satisfied' with preparations for the vote. Although the elections are not expected to be perfect, Mulet said they would hopefully provide a landmark on Haiti's road to democracy.
The presidential elections feature 18 candidates hoping to follow the unpopular Preval, who is barred by the constitution from seeking a third term.
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.
For the presidency, 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, Celestin is a mechanical engineer with a low political profile who has worked with Preval for over a decade.
Singer 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 lists the love and the confidence of the people as his main assets to become president.
Some of the main presidential candidates have expressed concern over possible fraud, despite assurances by national and international organizations that rigging would be 'very difficult.'
Provisional results are expected to be issued on December 7, with the official results coming 13 days later.
It was deemed likely that none of the candidates would get enough votes to win in the first round. In that case, there would be a runoff in January, something unheard of in Haiti's recent democratic history.
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