Fortenberry: Many Haitians "disenfranchised" in election


November 30th, 2010

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Haiti's government moved forward with a presidential election over the weekend, but much of the country remains in ruins after January's earthquake. (Photo courtesy Logan Abassi, Wikimedia Commons)

Lincoln, NE – Nebraska’s First District Congressman Jeff Fortenberry just returned from this past weekend’s presidential election in Haiti. Fortenberry said there didn’t appear to be widespread fraud, but many Haitians did not get to vote.

From the moment members of the congressional delegation arrived at the airport on Sunday, Fortenberry said, they saw people living in tents who were displaced by last January’s earthquake. Driving through the capital, the visitors and the embassy staff were struck by how deserted the streets seemed to be.

“Now, it’s Sunday, people go to church there on Sunday. It’s a culture that’s very attentive to religious ceremony,” he said, “But also, there was a great deal of perhaps fear of the unknown in regards to the election.” “Then the cholera epidemic that’s there,” he said, “further complicates the situation and people’s desire to actually go out and exercise their vote.”

Visiting a couple of polling places, Fortenberry said, the election process seemed orderly and largely free of fraud. He cited one estimate that only 50 of 1500 polling places experienced fraud or violence.

“I think the bigger problem here is the fact that many people were disenfranchised,” he said. “People were required to have a national ID in order to vote several months ago. There was confusion about that… many people bringing their receipt for their ID and not necessarily the ID themselves, because it hadn’t been issued, so they were too late in effect to vote.”

He added, “Many people were very frustrated because they did not find themselves on the actual list of people who were eligible to vote in those polling places.”

Fortenberry noted that 13 of 18 presidential candidates have called for the election to be annulled because of irregularities they said favored the ruling party’s candidate. There have been protests, and a spokesman for UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon called for calm. Fortenberry said he hopes the situation will stabilize, and give Haiti the kind of stable government he said is needed to promote economic development in the impoverished nation.

“If there is a runoff, which seems to be somewhat likely, perhaps that serves as a mechanism by which these irregularities that disenfranchised some Haitians could be resolved,” he said, “which could smooth “the pathway for a transition of government on the regular schedule.”

Current Haitian president Rene Preval’s term is to expire in February. Late Monday, Fortenberry’s congressional delegation called on the U.S. Government to withhold endorsing the validity of the election pending investigation of fraud claims.

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