Protesters Call For President's Resignation As Haiti Postpones Elections

Jan 25, 2016
Originally published on January 26, 2016 6:27 pm
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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

This is supposed to be Carnival season in Haiti. But instead of colorful parades and dancing, the streets have been filled with protesters, burning tires and scuffles with police. The demonstrators want the current president, who has less than two weeks left in office, to step down immediately. The president and a group of eight opposition leaders have been in closed-door negotiations as the demonstrations go on throughout the impoverished country. NPR's Carrie Kahn has the latest from Port-au-Prince.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Running behind a van blaring music, a crowd of protesters shout down with President Michel Martelly and get him out.

FRITZ: (Speaking Haitian Creole).

KAHN: This protester, who only gave his name as Fritz, says Martelly has lied and cheated.

He promised us elections, but there is nothing. He must go.

The final round of the presidential election was supposed to have taken place yesterday but was abruptly canceled after officials said they feared violence and couldn't ensure voter safety. Opposition leaders and human rights groups had long been complaining about what they said was widespread fraud and vote rigging in last October's presidential primary. Martelly's ruling party candidate, a political newcomer and banana exporter, was declared the winner with 33 percent of the vote. The second place primary finisher, a former official with the state construction agency, refused to campaign, claiming the election was rigged.

Politics professor at the University of Virginia Robert Fatton says Haiti's electoral democracy is in a crisis. He says the institutions necessary to hold credible elections are too weak and that makes it easy for losers of contests to cry foul.

ROBERT FATTON: The political class in Haiti, whenever you have elections, resists the results because the results are deemed to be fraudulent and irregular, so we have that kind of cycle that seems to be unending.

KAHN: With its histories of the dictatorships and coups, international players from the U.N. to the United States have invested millions of dollars in Haiti's recent elections. Last year alone, the U.S. spent more than $30 million on the contests.

Protester Riselia Ouiswoi, a 43-year-old housewife, says Haitians will be the ones to decide the country's future and no one else.

RISELIA OUISWOI: (Through interpreter) We don't want any foreigners who will come and give us a president. We have to choose our own president.

KAHN: Ouiswoi, like many Haitians, is tired of foreign intervention in the country, especially in the capital still reeling from the effects of the devastating 2010 earthquake and what many complain has been a shoddy and uneven recovery paid for by international charities. According to Haiti's constitution, President Martelly must step down from office by February 7, less than 2 weeks from today. No new election date has yet been set.

Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Port-au-Prince. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.