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Haiti

Haitians head to the polls in long-overdue elections

A man gets his shoes shined near posters of candidates running for legislative elections in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, August 7, 2015.
A man gets his shoes shined near posters of candidates running for legislative elections in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, August 7, 2015. REUTERS/Andres Martinez Casares

Legislative elections kicked off in Haiti on Sunday after a four-year delay, in a test of stability for the Caribbean nation. A record number of office-seekers, traditionally low voter turnout and several murders during the month's-long campaign have already cast doubts on the vote's results.

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More than 1,800 candidates from dozens of parties are running, which makes Sunday's legislative elections very crowded indeed.

Why such enthusiasm? Well after years of false starts, due to the failure of President Michel Martelly and his opponents to make up their mind on the makeup of a provisional electoral council as required by law, Haitians have had time to take an interest in politics.

No less than 128 new political parties have been registered. Yet, this political fever has translated into violence.

Several people were murdered during the campaign leading up to the election, and the National Human Rights Defense Network, published a report on Wednesday denouncing a "climate of terror."

On Saturday, UN Secretary General Ban ki-Moon was forced to issue a statement urging Haitians to vote in calm, and refrain from violence.

These elections promise to renew Haiti's constitutional order and reactivate the government machinery, which has been ground to a halt for four years.

More than 5 million people are registered to vote, although the majority are more concerned about poverty and high unemployment.

The length of the electoral process could help explain some of voters' ambivalence. Sunday is only the first of three polling days before the end of the year.

Between now and then, Haiti will elect nearly all of its political personnel: deputies, senators, mayors, local officials and a president.

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