On Sunday, August 9, Haiti held the first round of legislative elections for the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate. Election day was marred by disorder, delays and the closing of polling stations due to violence and fraud, according to initial reports by local and international media. Political party representatives (“mandataires”) were frequently accused of being responsible for irregularities. Disputes over which representatives would be allowed to observe the electoral process also affected many voting centers. Most polling stations opened several hours late was and voter turnout was reportedly low.
During the day, the CEP claimed that overall the elections were going well and that only isolated incidents of violence or fraud had occurred. At a press conference after polls closed, CEP President Pierre-Louis Opont declared that only 4% of voting centers (54 out of 1508) were affected by violence and that 5% of voters had been affected by the premature closing of polling stations. The CEP did not give any estimate of voter turnout. President Michel Martelly and Prime Minister Evans Paul echoed the CEP’s assessment, deploring irregularities and violence while judging the election to be globally satisfactory.
In the aftermath of the elections, tensions were high in many parts of the country. On August 10, supporters of disgruntled candidates in Saint-Marc, Boucan Carré and Mariani protested, blocked roads and burned tires to demand the cancellation of the elections. In Mirebalais, several candidates led protests denouncing election irregularities. Two days later, the police arrested three candidates in the area accused of breaking into and vandalizing the local Prosecutor’s office and holding its employees hostage. In Marigot, in the South-East, 11 of 13 deputy candidates called for new elections and accused Parti Haïtien « tèt kale » (PHTK) and Pati Pou Nou Tout (PONT) candidates in the area of committing violent acts on election day. Supporters of the 11 candidates attempted to burn down the communal voting bureau, according to Haiti Press Network. The mood in Jérémie on August 10 was bitter and frustrated, Le Nouvelliste reported, the day after an election marked by significant irregularities and violence in the Grand’Anse region. In Plaisance, supporters of certain candidates broke into the communal electoral bureau and burned the ballots, in an effort to force the cancelation of the elections in the area. In Port-au-Prince, 14 candidates led a protest to demand a cancellation of the election.
Most protests pointed the finger at President Martelly’s PHTK, whose candidates were accused of manipulating the vote. OPL, Fanmi Lavalas, Pitit Dessalines, FUSION and many other parties and civil society organizations denounced the election as a fiasco and even an electoral coup d’État. They accused PHTK of being responsible for most instances of fraud, violence and other irregularities observed on August 9. Some called for a total cancellation of the first round of voting, while others demanded a multi-party inquiry commission be appointed to determine where the vote should be re-run. PHTK denied accusations leveled at its candidates and judged the elections a success marked only by small incidents.
Four national observation teams released preliminary assessments of the elections in the following days. On August 10, OCAPH published a preliminary report on the elections, followed by RNDDH, CNO and CONHANE which on August 11 issued a preliminary report of their own. On August 14, POHDH and SOFA also released a preliminary report on the elections. All three observer teams reported very low voter turnout and criticized widespread irregularities, including violence, intimidation and fraud, at voting centers on August 9. OCID, by contrast, gave the elections a positive assessment, declaring them to have been more or less satisfactory at an August 9 press conference after polls closed. The organization has not yet released a report detailing its findings. Le Nouvelliste has raised questions about OCID’s impartiality due to its funding sources.
The international community received the August 9 elections much more favourably than most Haitian observers, political parties and the press. On election day, Elena Valenciano, head of the European Union’s (EU) electoral observation mission, told journalists that the elections were unfolding in conditions of “near total normalcy.” The EU observation mission’s preliminary report, while noting numerous (often violent) incidents, nonetheless hailed August 9 as a positive step for the renewal of Haiti’s democratic institutions. The preliminary observations of the OAS’s observer mission and the statement of the Core Group (The U.S., France, Canada, Brazil, Spain, and the EU) ambassadors were similarly favourable in their view of the August 9 election.
The CEP is slated to release the results of first round on Wednesday, August 19.