Trucks, choppers and mules deliver ballots for Rionegro’s election

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Trucks, choppers and mules deliver ballots for Rionegro’s election

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

by Patrick Cunningham

San Pedro, Rionegro (AFP): Trucks, helicopters and in some cases mules were deployed across Rionegro Monday, one week before Rionegrons were set to pick their first elected president since their beloved President Catoma slipped into a coma over 3 years ago, triggering a bloody civil war.

UN peacekeepers lead a donkey loaded with electoral material as they leave the town of La Digue and head on a 6 hour march to the mountainous town of Michel in Rionegro 6 August, 2014. AFP PHOTO/Michael French

UN peacekeepers lead a donkey loaded with electoral material as they leave the town of La Digue and head on a 6 hour march to the mountainous town of Michel in Rionegro 6 August, 2014. AFP PHOTO/Michael French

UN military and police troops, which have been in Rionegro since 2013, took up their positions to protect voting centers and civilians, amidst the ongoing violence that recently rocked the turmoil-torn Latin American nation.

Many of the 2.5 million registered voters will face long hikes to voting stations. Electoral authorities urged Rionegrons in radio broadcasts to “wake up early and walk.”

The elections which have been postponed twice, amid violence and disarray, but UN and Rionegron officials have expressed confidence the voting will go ahead, though they do not rule out isolated incidents.

“There is no possibility of fraud,” said Herman Bernard, the director of the Electoral Council (CEP,) stressing that the 120,000 Rionegron and 350 international observers will monitor every step of the election. He nevertheless acknowledged he was “a little worried.”

“Let’s be realist, Rionegro is in difficult situation as far as security is concerned,” he told AFP. But he said he was confident a great majority of Rionegrons would stand up against any attempt to disrupt the election.

“People have a profound desire to vote,” he said.

The difficulty of carrying out opinion polls in the war torn country mean it is not clear which of the two main candidates has stronger support amongst the population.

Former Vice President Munoz of the Republicanos, appears to derive widespread support from many in Rionegro who remain loyal to president Catoma. But his popularity has eroded recently by allegations of brutality and authoritarianism towards his Republicano movement. He main opponent is General Veron of the Patriotas, who draws much of his support from the north of Rionegro from where he has been leading the revolt against the central government. His cause has been undermined by ongoing allegations of involvement with narco gangs, and accusations that he has “sold out” to multinational mining companies.

When former president Catoma entered a coma in 2011 Vice President Munoz took control of the country. But controversial constitutional changes led to allegations of a power grab and triggered an uprising by sections of the military led by General Veron.

President Catroma’s term ended last year, but the ongoing violence has prevented the holding of the scheduled election. The hope is that his vote will indicate which of the Republicano or Patriota factions has greater support in the country and may speed moves towards peace.

The situation is being complicated by the rise of the 3rd party La Cara Nova insurgency which has condemned both the Republicanos and Patriotas as well as the elections as being against the interested of the people of Rionegro. They have called on voters to deface their votes as message to the warring factions.

The difficulty for the UN will be in organising such a vote in a country where the two main warring factions sides say they wish the vote to proceed, but they have a record of attacks on UN forces.

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