Haitians were electing legislators to Parliament Sunday after a yearslong wait, but the vote was plagued with delays, disorder and occasional fistfights and rock throwing.
The legislative elections had been postponed for nearly four years due to a political showdown between Haiti's executive and opposition, and they have been billed as a crucial test of the country's electoral system ahead of a presidential vote in October. Sunday's first round seeks to fill two thirds of the 30-member Senate and the entire 99-member Chamber of Deputies.
But a number of polling stations across the country of 10 million people had to wait for ballots hours after voting was supposed to start at 6:00 a.m. In sections of Port-au-Prince, voters who began trickling in around dawn grew exasperated after being told they couldn't cast ballots because their names weren't on official voting lists.
"This is very frustrating. Are they trying to discourage voting?" gardener Gerald Henry complained to a reporter after election workers turned him away.
In the crowded capital, at least three voting centers were shut down by authorities after fistfights broke out as partisans attempted to stuff ballot boxes and engage in other irregularities. At one voting center in the capital, groups of young men ripped up paper ballots as heavily armed police shot into the air to re-establish order. Rocks were thrown in response before authorities closed the polling station.
Local media also reported the closure of polling stations in other sections of the country, including the western city of Jeremie, and scattered arrests of people accused of voting more than once. Observers from various political parties complained election officials did not give them access to voting centers.
The National Network for the Protection of Human Rights reported five election-related assassinations in the last month and 26 people wounded.
Still, Haitian Prime Minister Evans Paul said the government was satisfied with how the legislative elections were handled, "despite the incidents that we would like to firmly condemn."
After voting ended, Pierre-Louis Opont, the head of the country's Provisional Electoral Council, told reporters that 54 polling stations, roughly 5 percent of the total, were closed Sunday amid violence and other disruptions. He also disclosed that a council staffer stole some of the elections material and vanished, but Oponte declined to provide more specifics other than the police were looking for him.
"We still don't know what his intention was," Oponte told reporters.
Authorities were also trying to confirm reports of one election-related fatality. "We know that there were instances of violence throughout the country," Oponte said.
The vote was taking place roughly eight months after Haiti's legislature was dissolved because the terms of lawmakers expired before new elections could be held.
It's the first election Haiti has held under President Michel Martelly, who took office in May 2011 and cannot run for re-election. He has governed by decree since Parliament dissolved in January. In the absence of elections, Martelly has been accused of stacking the deck in his favor by appointing mayors and other municipal officials to replace those whose terms expired.
"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, said on Saturday.
Roughly 5.8 million people were registered to vote and over 1,850 candidates from nearly 130 political parties were running.
Elections in Haiti are never easy and the country's Provisional Electoral Council has long been criticized for votes plagued by disorganization, ballot irregularities and fraud allegations.
Final results were not expected for several days and a significant amount of work will be needed to get the next Parliament up and running after it is installed. The first round of Haiti's presidential election and the second round of local elections are set for Oct. 25.
After voting at a heavily secured polling station, Martelly was asked what he thought of Sunday's disorder. He told reporters: "I hope that the election officials are better organized for the presidential elections in October."