Haiti’s long-overdue legislative elections were not perfect, but it’s significant that they happened, the Organization of American States’ observer mission said Monday.
“The process took place and was taken to the end,” Enrique Castillo, the head of the observer group said at a press conference. “We cannot assess whether the problems ...could disqualify the process as a whole. Our impression up to today is they don’t. But it’s up to the (electoral) council to evaluate that.”
Castillo said observers represented a dozen countries and were present at 171 voting centers throughout Haiti. Among the positive signs, observers found, was that voters’ lists were visible at polling stations and women cast ballots.
But like elections officials and other observer groups, the OAS recognized that the elections for 139 seats in parliament were riddled with irregularities, ranging from late start times to acts of violence. Results are expected Aug. 19.
Their observations were joined by that of the leading foreign diplomats in Haiti who said in a statement, “the organization of the first round of elections reflects the efforts’ of Haitian authorities including the police, government and elections officials.
“While commending the efforts of citizens who exercised their right to vote across the country,” diplomats said they deplore the “interruptions of the polls in certain areas, acts of violence and the loss of human life.” It asks Haiti’s authorities to investigate the incidents and to bring the perpetrators to justice.
Neither the diplomats nor the OAS provided any information on how many of the country’s 5.8 million registered voters turned out to vote. In the capital, some voting centers had few voters, and many believe that the reports of violence forced some to stay home.
At Canaan, a post-earthquake camp on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince, voters said they weren’t able to get to polls, located miles away from their home, because there was no public transportation operating on election day.
“The problem is that the violence this round deterred voters and will likely deter voters in Oct. Low voter turnout combined with violence, intimidation and ineffective security can contribute to massive fraud, which could greatly influence poll results in tighter elections in October,” said Nicole Phillips of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti.
“Glossing over demonstrated problems will continue to undermine the international community's credibility with voters and candidates,” she added.
Castillo’s remarks came as some disgruntled candidates Monday demanded cancellations of the vote in their constituencies, and supporters burned tires and blocked streets with rocks. Meanwhile, one of the parties accused of perpetrating the violence at many voting centers, PHTK, refuted the accusations saying it was also a victim of violent acts. The party is supported by advisers of President Michel Martelly.
“We deplore all acts of violence,” said Lucien Jura, a former Martelly spokesman and a candidate for deputy in Archaie where the voting also was disrupted.
Party members called on supporters to remain calm and to await results. They also dismissed cancellations calls by some candidates and political parties.
“The people who lose always ask for cancellation whenever they lose,” said Line Balthazar. “We have candidates who lost. We have candidates who won. We will continue with the process.”
Haitian officials said despite irregularities, they were satisfied with the electoral process and that only 4 percent or 54 out of 1,508 voting centers were forced to closed on Sunday because of violence. Pierre-Louis Opont, the head of the elections council, said it wasn’t enough to invalidate the vote and said that security was the responsibility of the Haitian National Police, not the council.
Speaking to the media after polls closed, Prime Minister Evans Paul said, “I am neither happy nor upset; I am relieved.”
Still, some believe the number of voting centers forced to close because of violence is higher than 4 percent. Rosny Desroches, the head of an observer group, said voting was interrupted at 14 percent of voting centers while 6 percent were interrupted by armed individuals.
“It is the responsibility of the [Provisional Electoral Council] as to what to do with the voting at those centers,” Castillo said.
Castillo said it plans to recommend to the nine-member Provisional Electoral Council on how to improve the process ahead of the Oct. 25 legislative runoffs, and presidential balloting. Elections are also scheduled to be held that day for more than 5,000 local posts.