Protests, fraud charges roil Haiti elections

A young Haitian yells out at authorities after being denied access to vote at a polling station in...

A young Haitian yells out at authorities after being denied access to vote at a polling station in Port au Prince, Haiti Sunday Nov 28, 2010. (ANDRE FORGET/QMI AGENCY)

Joseph Guyler Delva and Pascal Fletcher, REUTERS

, Last Updated: 9:12 AM ET

PORT-AU-PRINCE - Haiti’s elections ended in confusion Sunday as 12 of the 18 presidential candidates denounced “massive fraud” and demanded the polls be annulled and street protests erupted over voting delays and problems.

The repudiation of the elections by so many of the presidential candidates dealt a blow to the credibility of the U.N.-supported poll. The international community was hoping the vote could produce a stable, legitimate government in the poor earthquake-ravaged Caribbean country.

Voters’ frustration at not being able to cast their ballots due to organizational problems at many polling stations in the capital Port-au-Prince boiled over into street protests. At least one polling station was trashed by one angry group.

“We denounce a massive fraud that is occurring across the country. ... We demand the cancellation pure and simple of these skewed elections,” the 12 presidential candidates said in a statement read to reporters at a Port-au-Prince hotel.

Still, Haiti’s Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) said the elections went “well” at most of the more than 11,000 polling stations across the nation. “The CEP is comfortable with the vote,” council president Gaillot Dorsainvil said.

Counting began after polls closed at 4 p.m. (2100 GMT).

After a day of confusion at many polling centers in the capital, some Haitians expressed anger at what they viewed as a wasteful, flawed exercise.

“Look what our government spends its money on,” said Abellar Sony, brandishing a fistful of unused ballot papers at a polling station near the Cite Soleil slum. Children played with unmarked ballot papers, scattering them in the air.

The CEP acknowledged “some problems” and said it was trying to resolve them after the turbulent presidential and legislative elections went ahead amid a raging cholera epidemic and political tensions.

The 12 candidates denouncing the poll included all main opposition candidates. They accused outgoing President Rene Preval’s Inite (Unity) coalition and its candidate, Jules Celestin, of trying to steal the elections.

Among them were prominent front-runners like former First Lady Mirlande Manigat, popular musician and entertainer Michel “Sweet Micky” Martelly, and lawyer Jean-Henry Ceant.

The U.N. mission in Haiti and the Organization of American States/Caribbean Community elections observer mission said they were still gathering information on how the vote went.

Demonstrations flared in several parts of the sprawling capital, which still bears the scars of Haiti’s devastating Jan. 12 earthquake. Local radio also reported protests against the electoral process in Gonaives and Les Cayes.

A protest of several thousand people in the capital’s Petionville district was led by Martelly, joined by Haitian-American hip-hop star Wyclef Jean, who was barred from standing as a candidate by electoral officials in August.

Haitian radio stations reported two people killed in electoral violence in the south of the country, and one person injured in a shooting in the northeast.

More than 12,000 U.N. troops and police assisted local police in protecting polling stations.

POLLING STATION WRECKED

Many voters spent hours under a hot sun desperately searching for the voting centers where their names were registered. Many polling stations opened late, mired in confusion and arguments over materials and observers.

In the Tabarre neighborhood, a group of voters who did not find their names on the electoral list wrecked a polling station set up in a school, strewing ballot boxes and ballots across the courtyard. Haitian policemen on duty there fled.

With political tensions flaring, and rebuilding after the January earthquake seemingly paralyzed by the advancing cholera epidemic, many feared a contentious election could drive Haiti deeper into turmoil.

At one polling center at the Delmas neighborhood in Port-au-Prince, which had still not begun operating hours after the official 6 a.m. opening time, several hundred protesting voters ran in the streets clamoring to be able to cast their ballots as armed U.N. police in riot gear stood by.

Some voters did not have the national identity cards they needed to vote, others had their IDs but did not find their names on voter lists in the centers set up in schools, wooden huts and even in tents in crowded earthquake survivors’ camps.

“Haitians are upset because they know a fraudulent election when they see one and they think the international community is going to give their blessing to this,” said University of San Francisco law professor Nicole Phillips.

Phillips, a staff attorney with the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, said the disorganization would further undermine the credibility of the elections, whose preparations were marked by sporadic violence and widespread skepticism.

“I think you’re going to have a Haitian people who will not respect their new government,” she told Reuters.

RUN-OFF LIKELY

Manigat, Martelly, and Celestin, a government technocrat and protege of outgoing President Preval, had led the field of 18 presidential candidates, according to opinion polls.

But, even before Sunday’s fraud denunciation, the lack of a clear favorite had increased the likelihood of the contest going to a Jan. 16 runoff between the two top vote-winners.

Calling 2010 the “worst year in Haiti’s history,” Preval, who cannot run again after serving two terms, had called on Haitians to vote in peace and shun violence.

Violence, including ambushes of campaign caravans, random gunfire and attacks by rioters against Nepalese U.N. peacekeepers, whom some Haitians accuse of bringing in the cholera, killed several people in the run-up to the vote.

The United Nations says there is no conclusive evidence the Nepalese troops are the source of the disease outbreak.


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