A week ago last Sunday, Haitian’s took to the polls for the second time in recent months, concluding the second round of voting for local senators and deputies, and for the country’s next president. While many pundits pointed out that both presidential candidates Michel Martelly (former pop-star) and Mirlande Manigat (former first-lady) boasted similar if not identical political platforms, the commentary did not deter Haitians from demanding their right to vote.
This time, as with last time, I was fortunate enough to be selected as an election observer (note the difference between observer and monitor; the former is only there to watch, the latter assists in keeping order), this time in the Petionville area. Despite many voting stations in Port-au-Prince not opening until later in the day due to a delay in election materials (pens, ballots, etc), the hundreds of Haitians who waited for hours outside each voting site stood in line patiently, though visibly agitated.
Think about it. Imagine you’re getting ready for the 2008 U.S. presidential election and you’ve just suffered months of campaign ads, rallies, speeches, slander, goof-ups, and the all around political circus. On top of that, you have to find time after work or on your lunch hour to go vote (that’s one area where there were no complications in Haiti, the benefit of holding elections on a Sunday!). Now, to add to all of that, you get to your voting location only to find it’s not open yet. More precisely, it’s open, and you can see everyone moving around inside, but you’re not allowed to vote yet because they’re not ready. Now, finally, imagine this going on for hours in sweltering heat.
In America, it’s nothing short of a miracle that we can even stand in lines for rides at Disneyworld, and even that has to be carefully managed to avoid mass panic and revolt. To have us wait for endless hours to vote for the president? I’m not sure most of us could take it. In Haiti, though, the determination is fierce. Of course there is shouting, confusion, and frustration. But what there’s infinitely more of is a unified goal: to vote and to be heard.
At one voting center, Haitians who had been waiting since 6am cheered and cleared a path for the MINUSTAH truck that came to deliver the election materials nearly four hours later. Men from the crowd even helped carry the materials into the voting center. Haitians met the delay with determined confidence, assured in the fact that at the end of the day their voices would be heard.
Recently the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) announced that the results for the second election round would be delayed, much like they were for the first round. And so, once again, Haitians wait, in sweltering heat, for an answer. What will the end result be? Based on what I observed during both rounds of elections, the only end result Haitians want is the one that reflects their decisions at the polls. A humble request of democracy.
More photos from election day can be found on my flickr.