Haitians voted Sunday for the first time in four years in a test of stability for an impoverished country continually rocked by political turmoil. Men armed with rocks and bottles attacked polling stations in the capital of Port-au-Prince and two dozen voting centers around the country were forced to close due to violence, according to officials. Voting was extended two hours at some polling stations that opened late or were forced to suspend voting. The Caribbean nation of about 10 million people has struggled to build a stable democracy ever since the overthrow of the dictatorship of the Duvalier family, which led Haiti from 1957 to 1986, and ensuing military coups and election fraud. The country was also devastated by an earthquake in 2010 that flattened large parts of the capital, including the presidential palace, killings tens of thousands of people.
Haiti’s parliament dissolved in January after scheduled legislative elections in 2011 and 2014 were canceled. Since January, the 119-member Chamber of Deputies has sat empty, and the Senate, with only 10 of its 30 members, has failed to field a quorum.
“Credible, inclusive, translucent and fair elections are key to long-term stability in Haiti,” Sandra Honoré, the special representative of the U.N. secretary general in Haiti, told Reuters on the eve of the vote.
President Michel Martelly, who cannot run for re-election, has dozens of candidates running throughout the country under the so-called Haitian Tet Kale (Bald Headed) Party (PHTK), named after his famously smooth scalp. The Vérité (Truth) Party of former president René Préval and the Lavalas Family party, linked to twice-deposed former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, are also running candidates.