Initial reactions to Haiti's February 7th, 2006 Presidential Elections
By Pierre Esperance, National Human Rights Defense Network (RNDDH)
February 9th, 2006
As I am sure most of you have heard via the media, the February 7th Haitian presidential and legislative elections were held and carried out in relative peace and security. RNDDH election monitors were observing in voting centers and offices around the country, providing regular updates to the head office here in Port-au-Prince. The final 2 observation teams are heading back to the city today.
Based on the initial reports coming in from the RNDDH observation teams, we can make some initial positive observations and comments on how the election process unfolded, as well as some negative aspects and critiques.
First and foremost, compared to elections in Haiti’s past, this election passed with minimal violence and disruption. Some isolated incidents were recorded but on the whole the day was peaceful. Additionally, the numbers of citizens that took to the streets to vote was impressive. It appears, and all concerned concur, that the mass population came out to vote on Tuesday. Despite having to wait in line and despite the number of obstacles that appeared, there was clearly a desire and will on the part of the mass population (from all sectors of society) to vote in all areas that RNDDH was observing, and this was extremely encouraging to see. Finally, none of the RNDDH observation teams reported fraudulent attempts by political party representatives (mandateurs) to influence the outcome of the elections.
While these positive elements are very important to keep in mind, there were also a significant number of irregularities reported and documented by RNDDH’s observation teams, as well as other national observation teams present in the voting offices. Firstly, numerous logistical obstacles arose due to systematic problems in the overall organization of the election process. At many centers, voters arrived before the electoral materials or even voting office members arrived and voting offices opened later than the 6:00am opening time set by the CEP. At 6:00am many of the offices were still trying to set up, in many cases by candlelight.
The registration lists as prepared and the assignment of voting offices for individual voters also was a large problem nationwide. A quick reminder: for these elections, voting centers were set up in which individual voting offices were located. Each voter was assigned a voting center and a specific voting office within that center. These were indicated on each person’s electoral card. Once arriving at the center, one was to go to the voting office indicated on his/her card.
It became apparent early on that the system of assigning voters a particular office to vote was abandoned. Instead, a system of voting in offices according to alphabetical order was adopted. However, signs were not clearly posted at voting office doors as to which letter(s) were assigned to which voting office. For example, at one voting center in Carrefour three (3) voting offices posted signs for the letter “L”. Voters did not know which office to vote in. In several cases, voters waited in a line they thought was for them, only to be told after getting to the front of the line that they were at the wrong voting office. Additionally, many people arrived at the appropriate office only to find that their name was not on the list of registered voters. Thanks to continuous updates by the press, the CEP made the decision that individuals whose names did not appear on the registration list could vote in the appropriate offices. Unfortunately this decision was made quite late in the day; it is hard to know how many people ended up leaving without voting.
It was also observed in many cases that electors were unable to vote in secret due to various factors, ranging from too many voting offices in one small room to political representatives in too close proximity to the voting booths and in many cases actually looking in and/or talking to voters in the booths.
Finally, it was evident that the civic education campaign that was carried out prior to the elections was not sufficient or effective as many voters had difficulty understanding how to use the ballots.
Other comments and observations can be made with regards to irregularities documented. However, none of this affects the credibility of the vote and the voting process. It is RNDDH’s assessment that the elections of 7 February were successful in that they were free, honest, and democratic, despite the numerous difficulties encountered.
All the individual voting center results are to be sent to a tabulation center here in Port-au-Prince and the results are expected to be announced before the weekend. It appears (and at this point there is no confirmation of this) that former president René Préval will win a majority, thus making a second round unnecessary.
RNDDH continues to monitor the situation and is in the process of preparing a report on our observation activities. We will keep you all informed!
Most kind regards,