Haitian officials have announced Monday a new date for national elections. The troubled country has been battling violence and insecurity, as it struggles to prepare for the vote. The announcement comes just two days after the United Nation's top military commander was found dead in his hotel room.
This is the fifth time that Haiti has attempted to organize a date for national elections.
According to a presidential decree, the first round of voting will be held on February 7, and a runoff will be held, if needed, on March 19. The new government is to take office by March 29.
The vote was formerly to be held January 8, but in late December, officials postponed elections for the fourth time due to logistical problems. Haitian election officials said that national identity cards had not been fully distributed, and there were not enough polling centers in rural areas.
U.N. ambassador to Haiti Juan Valdez has welcomed the new date, and he said the U.N. would not accept that the date be postponed again.
The U.N. has been criticized by Haitian officials for the repeated election delays. They say the U.N. and the Organization of American States have not done enough to help the country prepare.
The Haitian population is also critical of the apparent failure of U.N. troops to provide security in the crime-ridden capital, Port-au-Prince. Kidnappings have skyrocketed, generating millions-of-dollars in ransom for the gangs who control the slums in downtown Port-au-Prince. Haitian national police estimate that 1,900 people were kidnapped between March and December of 2005.
The capital was largely shut down Monday, after a general strike was called by the chairman of the Chamber of Commerce, Reginald Boulos. Boulos says he called the strike to protest the rash of kidnappings, and urge U.N. troops, known locally as MINUSTAH, to do more to provide security.
"I think the role of MINUSTAH was to bring peace and security - to bring security back, and help the government to carry elections. Elections cannot take place in such an unsecure environment. So, therefore, we think there are enough troops in this country, 7,400 international troops. There is enough know-how and technical expertise in MINUSTAH to basically get in with the minimum casualty in the civilian society, and get rid of the gangs, disarm the gangs," said Mr. Boulos.
The U.N. mission is still trying to regroup after the death of its top military commander, General Urano Bacellar. Mr. Bacellar was found dead in his hotel room on Saturday morning in what one senior U.N. official has called "a self-inflicted gunshot wound." So far, the U.N. has not confirmed the death as a suicide, and has launched an investigation.
The U.N. began its peacekeeping operation in Haiti in June of 2004, just three months after then President Jean Bertrand Aristide was forced into exile, following a violent uprising. The February 7 poll would be the first democratic election since Mr. Aristide was forced from power.