Voting problems dog Haiti poll

 

Delays and missing materials dogged early voting today in Haiti's presidential run-off, which international donors hope can produce a stable leadership to guide recovery after last year's earthquake.

The initial hitches in the capital Port-au-Prince, which produced anger and frustration among some voters, were a concern for the United Nations and the Organization of American States (OAS) which had sought improvements to avoid the chaos and unrest that marred the first round vote held in November.

Several polling stations in the capital were unable to open on time because materials such as ink to mark voters' fingers, ballot papers, labels to mark the ballot boxes and sometimes the boxes themselves had not arrived, witnesses said.

International observers were checking the extent of the problems.

The election presented Haiti's 4.7 million voters with a choice between a political newcomer, energetic entertainer and singer Michel “Sweet Micky” Martelly (50), and former first lady Mirlande Manigat (70), a law professor and opposition matriarch.

The small Caribbean state, one of the poorest nations in the world, desperately needs a capable, legitimate leadership and government to steer a post-quake reconstruction that requires billions of dollars of foreign assistance.

Casting his vote in the capital, outgoing president Rene Préval appealed for calm, calling the presidential vote, the first second round run-off in Haiti's electoral history, an important step to consolidate the country's democracy. "I hope the day will go well, that the results won't have any trouble, so we can have an elected president to replace me," he told reporters.

A false report that Haitian-American hip hop star Wyclef Jean, who backs Mr Martelly, had been shot in the hand on the eve of the vote generated a US media frenzy.

But Vanel Lacroix, police chief in Petionville where Jean is staying, said police had confirmed that he had suffered only a minor cut to his hand from glass in an apparent accident. "We met with the doctor who saw him and he confirmed Wyclef was cut by glass," he said.

Today’s run-off followed a turbulent first round vote last November that dissolved quickly into fraud allegations and unrest.

US secretary general Ban Ki-moon and other international leaders appealed for a calm, transparent run-off vote.

Weighing on many Haitians' minds as they cast their ballots will be the reappearance of a political heavyweight from the past, former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who arrived back from exile on Friday.

The return of the left-wing populist who still commands a big following in Haiti was opposed by the United States and United Nations as potentially disruptive. But Mr Aristide is not a candidate and aides have said he will stay out of politics.

Although Mr Aristide, who was driven into exile by a 2004 rebellion, has not clearly endorsed any candidate, many voters had been trying to interpret whom he favours in what is expected to be a close-fought run-off. Nevertheless, recent opinion polls have shown Mr Martelly slightly ahead of Mr Manigat.