Haiti elections rocked by fraud charges, protests

PORT-AU-PRINCE, (Reuters) – Haiti’s elections ended  in confusion today as 12 of the 18 presidential candidates  denounced “massive fraud” and called for cancellation of the  results as street protests erupted over voting irregularities.
The repudiation of the elections dealt a blow to the  credibility of the U.N.-supported poll. The international  community was hoping they could produce a stable, legitimate  government in the poor earthquake-ravaged Caribbean country.

Haitians shout slogans as they protest against the elections outside a voting center in downtown Port-au-Prince November 28, 2010. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz
Haitians shout slogans as they protest against the elections outside a voting center in downtown Port-au-Prince November 28, 2010. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

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 the  elections,” the 12 presidential candidates said in a joint  statement read to reporters at a hotel in Port-au-Prince.
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).
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, many of whom had already 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 made no  immediate comment on the fraud allegation.
Demonstrations flared in several parts of the sprawling  capital, which still bears the scars of Haiti’s devastating  Jan. 12 earthquake.
One protest of several thousand people in the Petionville  district was led by Martelly, joined by Haitian-American  hip-hop star Wyclef Jean, who was barred from standing in the  presidential race 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 when gunmen opened fire at a voting station at Fort  Liberte 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. Two Haitian policemen who were on guard  there fled, witnesses said.
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. (1100 GMT) 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.
“People came to fulfill their right as citizens to vote,  but up to now, no one has been able to,” said Joel Biteau, an  observer from one of the political parties at the station.
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.
University of San Francisco law professor Nicole Phillips  told Reuters: “It’s more than confusion. People can’t find  their names on the lists, they are holding their IDs, they are  eligible to vote, but they can’t do it.”
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.
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 today’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,” President  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.
Electoral observers and experts from the Organization of  American States, the Caribbean Community, the association of  Francophone states, the European Union and several European  countries are in Haiti to observe and support the elections.

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