Haiti's February 7 presidential and legislative elections, already postponed four times, were slow to get underway. After many polling stations opened late, or not at all, voting hours were extended by at least two hours (AP). Though the results of the vote—the first since Jean-Bertrand Aristide was ousted in a February 2004 rebellion (Economist)—will not be known for days, claims of fraud are already surfacing (Reuters). The departure of Aristide, the first president in Haiti's history to be democratically elected, was little mourned in Washington. Yet, as the New York Times editorializes, Haiti has since gone from troubled democracy to a "more deeply troubled nondemocracy," as well as an example of the limitations of UN peacekeeping.
The vote asks Haitians to choose leaders from among thirty-five presidential candidates and more than 1,300 legislative hopefuls to help lift the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere out of its morass. The front-runner, former President René Préval (Miami Herald), presided over a rare period of stability between Aristide presidencies but has avoided the spotlight since leaving office. International observers hope Preval will put Haiti on the path toward democratic reconstruction.
Despite the presence of a UN peacekeeping force, the security situation in Haiti is dismal (BosGlobe). Official ineptitude presents another obstacle: 300,000 of 3.5 million voters have yet to receive the voter ID cards for which they registered in autumn (LATimes).
The new president faces a rash of troubles. Jean-Marie Guéhenno, the UN undersecretary-general for peacekeeping operations, tells cfr.org's Mary Crane that in order for stability to come to Haiti, the UN must "be very clear that we will really stay the course." But Der Spiegel says neither the UN nor the election will prevent the further deterioration of Haiti.
A recent report by three NGOs documents Haiti's rampant gun violence, which has caused thousands of refugees to seek safe haven in the United States (PhilaInquirer). High unemployment, violent gangs, and an under-informed electorate can also be counted among the nation's ills (BBC), which have been documented by photographers for TIME and the Philadelphia Inquirer.