Elections and protests update

What you can read in the news

Tuesday evening the Conseil Electoral Provisoire announced the preliminary results of the national elections which took place last week. In the presidential race, Mirlande Manigat was announced to be in the lead with 31.37% (336,378 votes), Jude Celestin second with 22.48% (241,462 votes), and Michel Martelly third with 21.84% (234,617 votes). Candidates now have some time to appeal on the announced results, the final results will then be announced on December 20th. The top two candidates will be presented for a second round (required if no one has more than 50%), which will take place January 16th.

The elections were already unpopular with some or many (I can’t actually tell how much of course) Haitians to begin with, considering the fact that the popular Lavalas party (of former president Aristide) was exluded from participation, and that no candidate seemed to especially represent ‘the people’. In addition, the organisation of the campaigns and elections, as well as the costs, were seen as extravagant when the country faces so many reconstruction challenges. Not all of those who wanted to get registered to vote were able to either, and on the day of the election there were also issues with registration, claims of fraud, and  ransacking of some polling stations. Again, I definitely can’t tell how much actually went well or not, but TV and radio reported quite a bit of dissatisfaction with the day of the election. The electoral commission and international observers admitted to some hitches, but declared the election valid.

When the results were announced, they did not match previous estimates (from before and after the election), which indicated Joseph Martelly, a popular singer, to be in the lead, instead of the Jude Celestin, the ruling party’s candidate. This was followed by immediate protest in the streets Tuesday evening, all day Wednesday, as well as today, Thursday. The airport is closed, and not many are venturing outside their houses. Following this, the electoral commission ordered an urgent review of the presidential poll results today.

What it’s like to be here

Tuesday night was a bit impressive, the protests started in the neighbourhood right above mine and moved down to my area too. I could hear some of the crowd, gun shots, and smell burning tires.

Wednesday everyone that wasn’t out demonstrating stayed at home – there wasn’t much choice anyway as thousands of people walked down the main streets, and as burning tires, rubble and big rubbish containers were placed to block the roads.

Today from what I can tell things were slightly calmer, but there were still demonstrations and one more death, in Port-au-Prince this time after Haitians threw rocks at UN peacekeeping forces (yesterday there were four in Les Cayes, in the south, and one in Cap Haitian, in the north, reportedly due to fighting between rival political supporters). People stayed at home again.

It is a bit crazy to hear demonstrations going on outside quite close by of course, but I haven’t felt unsafe at all. My Internet has been down most of the two days, but not on my phone, and in the evenings it gets better, so I’ve been able to both work a little and not feel isolated. The appartment complex I am in is running low on water, but I have a tank that can last a few days. Electricity has been totally fine, and I’ve got food stocked up. So it’s not tough and not scary. Still it would be good for everyone if things got back to normal. I do expect things to be improved tomorrow, especially considering the poll review.

I definitely respect that if Haitians are unhappy about how the elections have gone, they express it. One very bad effect of freezing up the whole city and part of the country however is that it also freezes a lot of the cholera response: ambulances can’t circulate, medicines are not being distributed to the instituions that need them, and I guess many, if not most or all, health workers are not going to work.

Finally, a note on the violence: ruling party offices and some other buildings were burnt down or ransacked, there have been gunshots and grenades in the streets, and rocks thrown at the police and UN peacekeeping forces, who responded with tear gas and gunshots in the air. Still, I feel like from what I saw on TV, a lot of people yesterday were simply marching down the streets. Yes, they were shouting, chanting, running, and protesting, but they weren’t wildly shooting around. I’m not saying just a bit of violence and a few deaths are acceptable – not at all! – but media reports of ‘armed clashes’ and footage of the burning tires and grenade throwing sometimes make it seem more violent than it is. It’s definitely a big deal, but at this point it’s not a civil war.

If you want to stay up to date, here are two aggregator websites for news about Haiti:

General news: http://www.haitinews.net/

Humanitarian news: http://www.reliefweb.int/rw/dbc.nsf/doc104?OpenForm&rc=2&cc=hti

There is a bit of a time lag between events and reporting of course (yesterday it was quite fast, but somehow today since things had relatively calmed down news reports were coming in slower) – fastest way to get news is via radio, and friends who luckily share security updates with you! Yesterday I also got to see quite a bit of coverage of the streets on Haitian television (and not just the violent bits, especially as Haitian reporting features a lot of very long moments where the camera just walks or motorbikes down streets, without any commentary except where they are), but I had to look for it because not all my channels always work, and sometimes all channels thought it was fine to play Spanish and Indian soap operas, Christmas movies, and music videos for several hours in a row despite what was going on!

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