PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI —
About a dozen top Haitian officials appeared on state television Wednesday in an effort to reassure anxious voters that they will keep their promises of organized, fair and peaceful elections this weekend.
If they indeed pull it off, it would be the first time in Haiti's young democracy that a vote was not plagued by disorder and fraud allegations. Elections have never been easy in Haiti, and authorities have made similar pledges after messy first rounds in recent decades.
On Wednesday afternoon, the prime minister, various Cabinet members, the police chief and the elections director spoke on the national broadcast about preparations for Sunday elections that will see Haitians casting ballots for president, Parliament and local offices.
Looking directly into a TV camera, Prime Minister Evans Paul told Haitians citizens that the weekend balloting will be held as scheduled and voters will be respected.
"Everybody prepare to go vote, there will be elections,'' Paul said, adding that "a lot of money has been spent, a lot of energy has gone into'' getting ready for this year's three-round electoral cycle. Electoral officials say the total cost of the elections is $69 million, only $14 million put up by Haiti.
Delays and disorder troubled the first round of legislative elections on Aug. 9, which saw just 18 percent voter turnout. That balloting was billed as a crucial test of the country's electoral system ahead of the first-round presidential vote this weekend.
Yet numerous polling stations had to wait hours for ballots after voting was supposed to start at dawn that day. In some areas, voters grew exasperated after being told they couldn't vote because their names weren't on official lists. And some voting centers were so badly marred by violence and intimidation that balloting was cancelled in 25 districts.
But about 2 months later, Pierre Louis Opont, head of the country's Provisional Electoral Council, said authorities have identified all the weak spots and made various changes, including firing three staffers. He asserted there will be no organizational disarray for Sunday's balloting.
"We are sure that security will be in place so that everybody can come out and vote in peace,'' Opont asserted, adding that he's confident that all of the country's roughly 13,700 voting centers will be open at 6:00 a.m. sharp as scheduled.
When a Haitian journalist asked him about the allegations of biased tallies at tabulation centers and an overall lack of transparency, Opont said the electoral council would put out a statement about their "methods'' of tallying votes at some point after the Oct. 25 contest.
Calm and transparent elections are unprecedented in Haiti, where many voters are skeptical of the fairness of the electoral process, given the country's recent history of tumultuous or just plain messy votes. For most of its history, Haitians were ruled by dictatorships.
The Provisional Electoral Council has repeatedly been criticized for votes plagued by disorganization, ballot irregularities and fraud allegations. In 2006, a former electoral council chief was forced to flee the country after he was accused of trying to manipulate results and attackers looted and burned his farmhouse.
While Haiti struggles with significant voter apathy due to chronic failures by the government, there are also voters like Derosier Amos, a university student in agricultural science, who say they are determined to make their voices heard Sunday. "I'm going to vote no matter what because I think it is my responsibility as a citizen,'' he said.