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Haitians Vote in Chaotic Election

Prepared by: Eben Kaplan
February 8, 2006

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Throngs of Haitian voters braved long lines and bureaucratic delays (LA Times) to cast ballots in Haiti's presidential and legislative elections. After four postponements, the February 7 poll was "a stunning example of success" (Miami Herald), a U.S. Embassy spokesman said. Several deaths were reported amid the chaos, and allegations of fraud further marred the vote (NYT). Nevertheless, monitors praised the elections (BBC), which saw very high turnout. The poll was Haiti's first since former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was ousted (Economist) in a February 2004 rebellion.

The departure of Aristide, Haiti's first democratically elected president, was little mourned in Washington. Yet, as the New York Times editorializes, Haiti has since gone from troubled democracy to a "more deeply troubled nondemocracy," as well as an example of the limitations of UN peacekeeping.

The vote asks Haitians to choose leaders from among thirty-five presidential candidates and more than 1,300 legislative hopefuls to help lift the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere out of its morass. The front-runner, former President René Préval (Miami Herald), presided over a rare period of stability between Aristide presidencies but has avoided the spotlight since leaving office. International observers hope Préval will put Haiti on the path toward democratic reconstruction.

Despite the presence of a UN peacekeeping force, the security situation in Haiti is dismal (BosGlobe). Official ineptitude presents another obstacle: 300,000 of 3.5 million voters did not receive the voter ID cards they registered for months ago (LATimes).

The new president faces a rash of troubles. Jean-Marie Guéhenno, the UN undersecretary-general for peacekeeping operations, tells cfr.org's Mary Crane that in order for stability to come to Haiti, the UN "must be very clear that we will really stay the course." But Der Spiegel says neither the UN nor the election will prevent the further deterioration of Haiti.

A recent report by three NGOs documents Haiti's rampant gun violence, which has caused thousands of refugees to seek safe haven in the United States (PhilaInquirer). High unemployment, violent gangs, and an under-informed electorate (BBC) are also among the nation's many ills, which have been documented by photographers for TIME and the Philadelphia Inquirer.

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