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World

Haitians Go To The Polls For The First Time In 4 Years

ARUN RATH, HOST:

Haitians today are voting for the first time in nearly four years, and it's especially important since the country has had no parliament since January. When the terms of the lower house and a third of the senators expired and no elections were held, the parliament was dissolved, leaving Haitian President Michel Martelly to rule by decree for most of this year. For more, we've reached reporter Peter Granitz, who's in Port-au-Prince. Hi, Peter.

PETER GRANITZ: Hi, Arun.

RATH: So we've heard some reports of violence. Can you tell us what you've seen and heard so far?

GRANITZ: There has been violence at some of the polling stations around Port-au-Prince. There's been reported violence all over the country. At some of these smaller polling stations, you know, you'd walk by, and all looked well. You talk to people coming out, and they say things went well. And then you would go back 15 minutes later, and it was a complete disaster.

I saw at least four of them that, you know, all the voting materials were ripped up. There was broken glass because people were lobbying glass bottles at voters and into the polling stations. They tipped over the desks 'cause a lot of these were at schools. And in some of them, the police who were there to - who were tasked to secure the stations were just kind of sitting there. They were overrun by protesters.

RATH: Can you say yet whether this looks like it'll cast any kind of shadow over the results?

GRANITZ: The president, Michel Martelly, and his prime minister, Evans Paul, are both saying that things are - things are OK, despite all this violence across the town. President Martelly said that there have been some small gaps, without really explaining what that means. He recognized that there was some violence today. And he said that the big thing is that they need to fix it because there's another election in October to replace him. And interestingly, he says he doesn't know who the troublemakers are. A lot of people are saying that the troublemakers come from his party.

RATH: Peter, can you explain what's at stake in these elections?

GRANITZ: Well, obviously, there's the seats. Without a Parliament, you know, there's 119 deputies that are going to be filled and two-thirds of the Senate will be filled. There's only been 10 senators, so hasn't been a quorum, so there hasn't been any legislating. President Martelly has ruled by decree, but he has done that actually pretty judiciously. He has not passed a lot of edicts. In fact, the only law that he passed is an electoral decree saying, we will have elections. But a functioning democracy needs checks and balances.

So the seats are at play, but it's also the fact that Haiti needs to show the world that it's competent, that it can hold elections. In 2010, the elections were organized hastily by the international community. And a bunch of Haitians were really angry about that and still are angry about that. And Haiti is taking the charge on this, and it's their chance to show whether they can hold elections with a respectable turnout and elections that are considered credible.

RATH: Peter, do you know when we will know who won?

GRANITZ: Every polling station - the ones that did not close today, the ones that are still operating - those polling stations will start tallying today. And they will actually post the tally on the building as they come in. That's expected to take six to 10 days for the entire country. This is a really mountainous country, and it's a country with really poor infrastructure. So there are some very remote polling stations that - their poll results won't even come into Port-au-Prince until Tuesday. So we're hearing between six and 10 days, but once that happens, people can contest the results. And then because there's so many candidates - 180 candidates for these 140 seats or so - there's bound to be runoffs.

RATH: That's reporter Peter Granitz, who's joined us from Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince. Peter, thanks very much.

GRANITZ: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.