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Haitians Head To The Polls, To Pick From 54 Candidates For President

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Now we're heading to Haiti, where elections are being held today. Haitians are voting in presidential elections where they have to sort through some 54 candidates to succeed outgoing president Michel Martelly. They're also voting in the second round of legislative elections and for every mayor in the country. Joining us from Port-au-Prince is reporter Peter Granitz to tell us how things are going and what's at stake. Hi Peter, thanks for joining us.

PETER GRANITZ: Thank you.

MARTIN: First of all, what's the atmosphere today? I have to note that the first round of legislative elections was actually in August and the voter turnout was something like 18 percent. And was that because of disorganization or was there some violence and are things better now?

GRANITZ: Well, today is significantly better. The National Police of Haiti have been much more present than they were August 9. The United Nations peacekeepers have also been much more visible. They came out in the same numbers, but they patrolled yesterday and they patrolled today to make sure that everybody saw them. As for the August 9 election, the 18 percent turnout is a mix of things. There was electoral violence. There was dozens of polling stations across the country that were basically overtaken by partisans. People came in smashed bottles, ripped up ballots, tore up everything and basically intimidated people to stay home. But there's also a bit of voter apathy. People are not very confident that the government of Haiti is necessarily going to change the way people live their lives.

MARTIN: Tell me more about that. What is at stake here, and how are the issues shaking out?

GRANITZ: What's at stake is the presidency of a very poor country. This country was decimated in 2010 by an earthquake that killed more than 200,000 people. And since then and before then, too, this country's relied on foreign aid. But since we're coming up on six years since the earthquake, the foreign aid is drying up. And this country needs to find a way to generate its own income. It relies on foreign countries for money, like Venezuela. That's the only country that lends to it. And they're lending is pegged at the price of oil, which we all know went down. So Haiti's getting less money from Venezuela. Growth here is real low. It's in the 1 to 2 percent range. So whosever taking over is going to take over a country that needs a lot of attention right now. Also, what's at stake is the Parliament. Haiti has not had a parliament since January, when the terms of every member dissolved because of missed elections in 2011 and 2014. So there's going to be a new parliament. There's going to be a new president. And perhaps most importantly, this election and this whole election cycle is seen as a test for the National Police of Haiti. There's 12,000 of them now. The goal is to get them up to 15,000 or 16,000 because the United Nations peacekeepers that have been here for 11 years, they can't stay forever. And there's a big push to make sure that this is their final year of the country.

MARTIN: All right, finally, Peter, we just have a couple of seconds left. What's next? This isn't actually the deciding vote, as I understand it. There is a runoff from the top two candidates in December, so tell us what's next.

GRANITZ: Well, we will have to wait for a couple of weeks before we get results. December 27, the top-two candidates will face one another. And if all goes well, February 7 there will be a new parliament and a new president. I spoke with some civil rights leaders in Haiti today, and they said that even though today went quite well, there was no mass problems that they noticed. The big question now is to stay diligent while the tally goes on because it takes so long. People need to be diligent and make sure that there's no ballot stuffing, that there's no fraudulent counts right now. But now we wait for a couple of weeks until we start to see what happens. When the two candidates emerge, there's going to a final election.

MARTIN: All right, that's reporter Peter Granitz, who's with us from Port-au-Prince, where Haitians are voting in presidential elections today. Peter, thank you.

GRANITZ: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.