PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) _ Haitians were electing legislators to Parliament Sunday after a yearslong wait, but the vote was plagued with delays, disorder and occasional fistfights.
The legislative elections had been postponed for nearly four years due to a political showdown between Haiti’s executive and opposition, and they have been billed as a crucial test of the country’s electoral system ahead of a presidential vote in October.
Sunday’s first round seeks to fill two thirds of the 30-member Senate and the entire 99-Chamber of Deputies.
But a number of polling stations across the country were still waiting for ballots a few hours after voting was supposed to start at 6:00 a.m. (1000 GMT). In sections of Port-au-Prince, voters who began trickling in around dawn grew exasperated after being told they couldn’t cast ballots because their names weren’t on official voting lists
This is very frustrating. Are they trying to discourage voting?’’ gardener Gerald Henry complained to a reporter after election workers turned him away.
In the crowded capital, at least three voting centers were shut down by authorities after fistfights broke out, partisans attempted to stuff ballot boxes and other irregularities that were clearly visible. At one voting center in downtown Port-au-Prince, groups of young men ripped up paper ballots as heavily armed police shot into the air to re-establish order. Rocks were thrown in response before authorities closed the polling station.
The vote was taking place roughly eight months after Haiti’s legislature was dissolved because the terms of lawmakers expired before new elections could be held.
It’s the first election Haiti has held under Martelly, who has governed by decree since Parliament dissolved in January. In the absence of elections, Martelly has been accused of stacking the deck in his favor by appointing mayors and other municipal officials to replace those whose terms expired.
Roughly 5.8 million people were registered to vote and over 1,850 candidates from nearly 130 political parties were running.
Elections in Haiti are never easy and the country’s Provisional Electoral Council has long been criticized for votes plagued by disorganization, ballot irregularities and fraud allegations.
President Michel Martelly, who took office in May 2011 and cannot run for a consecutive term, is in the final year of a five-year term. He has been governing without a legislature since January.
Final results were not expected for several days and a significant amount of work will be needed to get the next Parliament up and running after it is installed. The first round of Haiti’s presidential election and the second round of local elections are set for Oct. 25.
AP writer David McFadden contributed from Kingston, Jamaica.