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article imageHaiti's endless electoral crisis

By AFP     Nov 18, 2016 in World

More than six million Haitians are due to vote on Sunday in their latest attempt in an 18-month-long effort to choose a president and parliament.

The poorest country in the Americas, with a history of corrupt and autocratic rule, Haiti has suffered a string of devastating disasters since 2010, including an earthquake, a cholera epidemic and a hurricane.

Recovery efforts have been hampered by corruption and political chaos, with local and national polls variously delayed, marred by fraud or canceled outright.

So a lot is now riding on Sunday's vote. Can Haiti choose new leaders and try to move on?

- An electoral marathon -

Haiti embarked on an electoral process in spring 2015 that would have been a logistical and political challenge for any young democracy.

The plan was to hold three elections, on separate days, to choose every local mayor and lower house lawmaker, two-thirds of the senate and a president.

The parliamentary vote, held in August 2015, was marked by violent street battles and the cancelation of results in a quarter of districts.

Although voting in the presidential poll went ahead on October 25 without violent incident, the opposition immediately challenged the results.

The vote results were canceled after an independent commission that examined the ballots concluded there had been "massive fraud."

Early attempts to revive the process stalled despite pressure from the United States, a major donor, and a new vote was scheduled for October 9.

But less than a week before polling, Hurricane Matthew struck, causing another delay.

Now the first round of voting is set for November 20, with an eventual run-off on January 29.

- Posts in play -

A man sits near a mural supporting Haitian presidential candidate Maryse Narcisse  as voters prepare...
A man sits near a mural supporting Haitian presidential candidate Maryse Narcisse, as voters prepare to choose between 27 candidates in the presidential election to be held on November 20, 2016
Hector Retamal, AFP

Twenty-seven candidates are competing to become president for a five-year term that -- barring more delay -- will begin on February 7.

Elections are also being held in the 25 parliamentary constituencies for which last year's vote was canceled, with 52 candidates in the running.

Sixteen senate seats and one mayoralty are also up for grabs.

- Main candidates -

Jovenel Moise, a 48-year-old plantation owner, was chosen by former president Michel "Sweet Micky" Martelly to lead the presidential bid of the ruling party, the PHTK.

He "won" last year's first round before opposition protests broke out and poll monitors found evidence of widespread fraud.

Jude Celestin of the LAPEH Party was runner-up in 2015, but refused to recognize the results he called a "ridiculous farce" and is now in the running again.

Moise Jean-Charles, a 49-year-old former senator and fierce Martelly critic, is the only avowed left-winger in the race.

Jean-Charles and his movement -- known as the "Children of Dessalines" after Haiti's independence hero -- are a common sight in street protests.

Maryse Narcisse, one of two women on the ballot, is best known for her role as spokeswoman for former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

The 57-year-old candidate for Aristide's Fanmi Lavalas Party has his backing.

- High security -

Haiti will mobilize 9,400 of its own police, 1,400 international United Nations police and the military arm of the UN mission in Haiti for the vote.

Some 4,200 Haitian and 400 international monitors from the Organization of American States and the CariCom regional bloc will observe the polls.

Suporters of Haitian presidential candidate Maryse Narcisse place electoral posters on a wall
Suporters of Haitian presidential candidate Maryse Narcisse place electoral posters on a wall
Hector Retamal, AFP

A handful of international officials and diplomats attached to missions in Haiti will help monitor the voting.

The European Union has declined to send observers, however. It sent 60 monitors in 2015, when it was vexed by the cancelation of the presidential vote's first round.

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