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Haitians Face Major Election, but How Many Will Vote Is Unclear

Supporters of presidential candidate Jude Celestin gather in Port-au-Prince,Thursday
Supporters of presidential candidate Jude Celestin gather in Port-au-Prince,Thursday

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This is IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English.

Haiti holds elections on Sunday for a new president and National Assembly. The nation has struggled with damage from the January earthquake -- and now a deadly outbreak of cholera.

This election is seen as one of the most important in years. International donors are waiting to give billions of dollars in aid money to a new government.

The United States has promised fourteen million dollars in election aid to Haiti. That includes money to help pay for international observers.

Will Haiti finally get the political leadership it needs to bring real change? That is the question on the minds of most Haitians. They live in the poorest country in the Americas. Haiti is also known for widespread corruption and wasting international aid.

One voter, Elexcema Okinel, says the country's biggest problem is the tent camps for people displaced by the quake.

ELEXCEMA OKINEL (TRANSLATED): The first thing I want to see fixed is for the new government to move people from tents into real homes. There is so much misery in the tent camps."

Some Haitians would like to see the election postponed because of the cholera outbreak and earthquake damage. But Mathieu Tranquilor says there is no time to wait. Mr. Tranquilor is one of almost twenty candidates running for a senate seat in Port-au-Prince, the capital.

MATHIEU TRANQUILOR (TRANSLATED): "As far as the election is concerned, we need to have an election. Because constitutionally, on February seventh, the current government will be dissolved. So we need to have an election with the help of the international community."

Mr. Tranquilor's campaign manager is a Haitian-born civil engineer, Russel Lacroix. They went to school together. Mr. Lacroix has lived for the past sixteen years in the United States.

But he says he plans to stay in Haiti and run for president in five years. That is how long a candidate must live in the country before seeking the presidency.

RUSSEL LACROIX: "You have to understand, I was born in Haiti. I am one hundred percent Haitian. When I saw everything from the TV, I have to come to my country to see on my own with my own eyes. And to see how I can help my country and rebuild my country with the help of the international community. And that is the main reason why I am here."

There are plenty of candidates in Sunday's elections. Because of that, no one expects clear winners without a second ballot. But some officials worry that there might not be enough voters. A low turnout could call the results into question.

Hundreds of thousands of Haitians remain homeless since the January earthquake. Tens of thousands who were displaced are unsure if they will be permitted to vote.

Many in the tent camps are unsure if they will vote on Sunday. Some do not know which voting station to use. Others lost their identity cards in the quake.

Haitians need a national identity card to vote. People have been crowding government offices to try to get one.

But some young Haitians say the lack of greater progress since the disaster in January has turned them against politics. Guerrier Accene says he has no plans to vote.

GUERRIER ACCENE (TRANSLATED): "When the politicians need you, it is only to help them win an election and get into office."

Haitian law bars voting by the eight hundred thousand Haitians living in the United States. But several Haitian presidential candidates traveled to Florida for a debate earlier this month. Haitian-Americans are important to Haiti. Last year, they sent nearly two billion dollars to family members back home.

And that's IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English. I'm Steve Ember.


Contributing: Jeff Swicord and Brian Wagner