Haiti postpones legislative, municipal elections

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Members and supporters of opposition parties protest on October 23, 2014 in Port au Prince

Members and supporters of opposition parties protest on October 23, 2014 in Port au Prince (AFP Photo/Hector Retamal)

Port-au-Prince (AFP) - Haiti's government announced it was postponing long-delayed legislative and municipal elections that had been due to be held Sunday, triggering protests by thousands of angry would-be voters.

The vote is already three years overdue. No new date has been announced, though President Michel Martelly's office vowed to hold elections "as soon as possible."

A statement explaining the decision cited Martelly's "constant concern to guarantee political stability."

Haitians were supposed to go to the polls Sunday to elect 20 senators, 102 deputies and municipal officials.

Protesters were swift in demanding Martelly's resignation for his "inability to organize elections in the country."

Most came from neighborhoods in the heart of the capital Port-au-Prince, and marched down several main streets holding up red signs calling for Martelly to step down.

Young demonstrators destroyed representations of Martelly and placards lauding government activities.

Two opposition activists who had called the protest were arrested by police for "public unrest and inciting violence."

Police prevented protesters from marching on the seat of the provisional electoral council charged with organizing the vote.

"He (Martelly) must go. He is trying to install a dictatorship in Haiti," some of the banners read.

Martelly had decreed in June that there would be an election on October 26, but the National Assembly did not pass an electoral law in time because of a political impasse.

Legislators and the opposition resisted attempts to hold the vote, saying the rules had been rigged by Martelly's camp.

However, the failure to organize elections means that the mandates of the rest of the members of the already depleted assembly will expire, potentially leaving Martelly to rule by decree.

Mandates of a third of the senators in the 30-strong body had already run out, so it struggles to find a quorum, and Martelly has imposed 120 municipal leaders on towns to replace elected councils.

Haiti, the poorest country in the Western hemisphere and still recovering from a devastating 2010 earthquake, has struggled with its difficult post-colonial legacy, corrupt rule, civil unrest, environmental degradation and natural disaster.