Polls closed in Haiti Sunday as the country finally held presidential elections after almost a year of political turmoil since the first round of elections last October ended with authorities canceling the results, citing massive fraud.
A total of 27 candidates ran, looking to replace former President Michel Martelly who left office in February without a replacement. Jocelerme Privert was elected by the Haitian parliament as interim president, but his 120-day mandate ended in June, leaving the country in a power vacuum since then.
Justice Minister Camille Edouard told Reuters "at least a dozen" people had been arrested on suspicion of trying to commit electoral fraud or tampering with the process.
However, OCID, a group observing the elections, said in an initial review that most polling stations were operating normally and that they had logged less than a quarter the number of complaints registered at this point in October 2015.
In Port-au-Prince and elsewhere, some people complained they were unable to vote because their names did not appear on lists at the polling stations, while others said that when they tried to vote they were told somebody had already done it for them. Voter turnout was low according to officials.
The Provisional Electoral Council said Thursday preliminary results of the vote are not expected until Nov. 28, if not longer.
Along with the political crisis, which has left many Haitians desperate to elect a leader who can unite the country and create jobs and political and economic security, the devastation left by Hurricane Matthew recently killed 1,000 people, wiped out crops and revived outbreaks of cholera, leaving up to 1.4 million people in need of humanitarian relief.
While around 6 million Haitians were eligible to participate in the election, conditions in the country may result in even lower levels of participation than last time, when less than 30 percent of the electorate voted.
The front-runner is Jovenel Moise, a 47-year-old candidate and wealthy businessman in the banana industry from ex-President Michel Martelly’s Parti Haitien Tet Kale. According to analysts, he’s also Washington's pick.
The other strong contender is Jude Celestin, a former state construction chief who led an election boycott last year after finishing second, triggering violent protests that lasted for days.
Unless a candidate wins more than 50 percent of the vote or gains an advantage of at least 25 percent over the second-place candidate, the two top candidates move to a second round run-off scheduled for Jan. 29. The winner is expected to take office in late February.
"The key question is whether the candidates who will not make it to the second round accept the results as legitimate," Robert Fatton, a political analyst who studies Haiti at the University of Virginia, told Reuters. "I have serious doubts about this. So we may be headed to another post-electoral crisis."