Haiti’s repeatedly derailed presidential election finally went off relatively smoothly Sunday as the troubled nation tries to get its shaky democracy on a firmer foundation after nearly a year of being led by a provisional government. Polls closed late in the afternoon, and election workers set to work on an archaic and time-consuming process of counting paper ballots in front of political party monitors. The schools serving as voting centers where they gathered were lit by lanterns, candles and flashlights. No official results were expected to be issued for eight days, and Provisional Electoral Council executive director Uder Antoine has said it might take longer than that.
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Voter turnout appeared paltry in much of southwestern Haiti, which was ravaged by Hurricane Matthew last month and was drenched by rain Sunday. But in the crowded capital of Port-au-Prince and other areas, voters formed orderly lines and patiently waited to cast ballots even as some polling centers opened after the 6 a.m. scheduled start.
“This is my responsibility as a citizen,” said Alain Joseph, a motorcycle taxi driver and father of four who wore a bright pink sweatshirt to show his loyalty to the Tet Kale party of former President Michel Martelly. Pink is the faction’s color.
Police reported some isolated incidents of voter intimidation and disruptions, including an attempt to burn a voting center in the northern town of Port Margot. Across the country of over 10 million people, there were 43 arrests for various charges such as illegal gun possession and assault.
Leopold Berlanger, president of the electoral council, told reporters that authorities were satisfied with how the day progressed even though balloting could not take place in two isolated districts. He said officials would examine complaints by people who couldn’t find their names on voter lists.
In Cite Soleil, a volatile slum on the edge of Port-au-Prince where voting sometimes has slid into chaos, balloting was so brisk and orderly that even some polls workers were stunned.
“I have to admit, I’m a little surprised just how smoothly things are going,” said Vanessa Similien, an electoral office worker who was monitoring voting at a school in the desperately poor district.
The Caribbean nation’s roughly 6 million registered voters did not lack for choice: 27 presidential candidates were on the ballot. The top two finishers will meet in a Jan. 29 runoff unless one candidate in the crowded field somehow managed to win more than 50 percent of the votes.
The balloting will also complete Parliament as voters pick a third of the Senate and the 25 remaining members of the Chamber of Deputies.
Helene Olivier, 72, said she was inspired to vote for the first time in her life in hopes a woman could tame Haiti’s fractious politics. She said Fanmi Lavalas candidate Maryse Narcisse, one of two female presidential contenders, would improve the nation because of her gender.
“Women protect women. They make good changes. The men, they boss you and beat you too hard,” Olivier said after casting her ballot at a high school in Petionville, a hillside district above Port-au-Prince.
Results of an October 2015 vote were annulled earlier this year after a special commission reported finding what appeared to be significant fraud and misconduct.
Haiti has had an anemic caretaker government for nearly a year, and the new president will face a slew of challenges.
With the depreciation of the currency, the gourde, the cost of living has risen sharply. Haiti is deeply in debt and public coffers are largely depleted. The southwest is in shambles from last month’s Hurricane Matthew and parts of the north have been battered by recent floods.
In Bel Air, a rough hillside neighborhood of shacks in downtown Port-au-Prince, a group of men playing dominoes said their biggest hope from a new administration was simply regular garbage collection.
“All I know is the next government needs to start picking up the trash around here again. Under the interim government, we’ve had no garbage collection here at all,” said Nicolas Michel, a math teacher and part-time welder.