Haiti election beset by cholera and confusion

THE ballot was as crowded as the earthquake-ravaged capital itself, and a collapsed presidential palace the prize.

The voter rolls were filled with the dead, and living citizens struggled to figure out if they can vote while worrying about political violence and a spreading cholera epidemic.

Welcome to Election Sunday in post-quake Haiti.

Most polls opened an hour or more after their 6am start time and confusion reigned at many.

Observers from dozens of parties crowded voting areas and furious voters were turned away from stations where poll workers could not find their names on lists.

“I don’t know if I’m going to come back later. If I come back later it might not be safe. That’s why people vote early.” said Ricardo Magloire, a Cap Haitian radio journalist whose polling station at a Catholic school was still not taking ballots after people had waited more than an hour.

Ninety-six contenders are competing for 11 Senate seats and more than 800 more are seeking to fill the 99-seat lower house. There are local and municipal races as well.

But the focus is on the presidential contest. Nineteen candidates are on the ballot, though many Haitians believe the race comes down to a man who is not: outgoing President Rene Preval, who was barred by law from running again.

The laconic leader twice sailed into office bolstered by supporters of his former ally, ousted former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide. But in Preval’s second term, voters branded him a traitor for not returning Aristide from exile.

The candidate of Preval’s recently formed Unity party is Jude Celestin, the little-known head of the state-run construction company whose dump trucks carted many of the quake’s estimated 300,000 dead to mass graves. Some opinion polls put Mirlande Manigat, 70-year-old former first lady whose husband was helped to power and then deposed by a military junta, as a more popular contender.

Clashes among rival political camps caused several deaths in recent weeks.

The victor gets a five-year term at the helm of a disastrous economy and leadership of an increasingly angry population worn down by decades of poverty and the January earthquake.

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