Presidential poll in Haiti gets off to a slow start

VOTING in Haiti’s presidential run-off started slowly in some places yesterday, with foreign donors hoping the poll would produce the stability needed to rebuild the earthquake-crippled nation.

In the wrecked capital Port-au-Prince, several polling stations were unable to open on time because ink to mark voters’ fingers and labels to mark the urns had not arrived. Arguments also broke out over which officials and party representatives should be there.

As groups of Haitians waited to vote, polling officials scrambled to get the stations ready. Blue-helmeted Brazilian UN troops guarded voting centres along with Haitian police, and white UN armoured vehicles rumbled through the streets, many still strewn with debris left from last year’s quake.

The election presents Haiti’s 4.7 million voters with a choice between a political newcomer, energetic entertainer and singer Michel Martelly, 50, and former first lady Mirlande Manigat, 70, a law professor and opposition matriarch.

The run-off followed a chaotic first round vote on November 28 that dissolved quickly into fraud allegations and unrest.

The United Nations says voting improvements have been made that should better ensure a clear, credible outcome.

The Caribbean state desperately needs a capable leadership and government to steer a post-quake reconstruction that requires billions of dollars of foreign assistance.

Weighing on many Haitians’ minds as they cast their ballots will be the reappearance of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who arrived back from exile on Friday.

The return of the charismatic left-wing populist and former Catholic priest was opposed by the United States and UN as potentially disruptive to the polls. But Aristide is not a candidate and aides have said he will stay out of politics.

Under Haiti’s election law, the Provisional Electoral Council is due to announce preliminary results from the run-off on March 31, with final results being confirmed on April 16.

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