Hurricane damage forces Haiti to delay voting yet again


Port-au-Prince (AFP)

The Haitian authorities have postponed presidential and legislative elections originally set for Sunday because of the havoc caused by Hurricane Matthew, election officials said Wednesday.

The impoverished Caribbean nation's last elections, in 2015, were canceled amid violence and massive fraud, leaving the country stranded in political limbo ever since.

The president of Haiti's Provisional Electoral Council, Leopold Berlanger, said a new date for elections would be announced by next Wednesday at the latest, after talks between the various interested parties.

The authorities must first assess the damage caused by Matthew, which struck Haiti on Tuesday as a Category Four hurricane with 230-kilometer (145-mile) an hour winds, he said.

The death toll from the storm stands at 10 people, but a bridge collapse cut off the area hardest hit, making the scope of the disaster still unclear.

"In the southern region, we already know that many buildings have lost their roofs and some of them were going to be voting centers," Berlanger said.

Poll workers may be among the victims or those left homeless by the hurricane, he added.

- A new hurdle -

Haiti has been immersed in a political crisis since the first round of presidential elections held on October 25, 2015, drew opposition protests.

The election authorities concluded that there had been massive fraud and canceled the election results.

The two new polling dates had been fixed for October 9 and January 18, 2017.

The Organization of American States on Wednesday expressed support for Haiti's decision to postpone the first round of voting, vowing to support "the Haitian democratic process."

"The OAS EOM will continue supporting the Haitian democratic process and will redeploy observers when the relevant authorities decide they are ready to hold elections," the chief of the OAS electoral observation mission, Juan Raul Ferreira, said in a statement.

Of the 54 candidates who took part in the presidential vote last year, 27 have confirmed they will participate in the election of a successor to Michel Martelly, who left office in February without a replacement.

Parliament had elected interim president Jocelerme Privert, but his 120-day mandate ended in June, leaving the country in a power vacuum yet again.

Amid the political turmoil, Haitians are grappling with chronic poverty and a number of major public health issues.

The Americas' poorest nation -- home to 11 million people -- has been struggling to recover from a devastating 2010 earthquake that has left thousands still living in tents.

Cholera has killed more than 10,000 people and affected some 700,000 since an outbreak in 2010, with 500 new cases reported every week.

Matthew now looms as another major hurdle to the restoration of constitutional order in Haiti.

"The electoral process is not interrupted," Berlanger said. "We are moving forward and working more intensively to deal with everything that needs to be done and also with these new problems."