Haiti elections slide into chaos


— With the country reeling from the effects of January’s earthquake and
a devastating cholera epidemic, elections slid into chaos Sunday as
thousands of voters complained they could not cast ballots and a
majority of presidential candidates accused the government committing
“massive fraud.”

Twelve of the 18 presidential candidates issued a
declaration saying the hastily prepared elections should be canceled
and that the people should “mobilize” to reject the results. They
accused President Rene Preval of conspiring with the
electoral council to ensure that his party, Inite (Unity), was in
charge of Parliament, and its candidate, Jude Celestin, won the presidency.

Protests erupted in parts the rubble-strewn capital and groups of young men tore up several voting centers.

“Preval is a thief!” shouted Steve Laguerre, 21, at a protest in Petionville in the afternoon.”He should go to prison.”

Laguerre, a university student, had his voter
registration card with him, but was turned away at the polls in
Petionville because his name was not on the list of registered voters
for that center — a complaint heard throughout the nation.

There were no reports of significant violence. But
if history is any indicator, Haitians will take to the streets en masse
in upcoming days if they feel the government stole the election.

“We’re going to shut everything down,” said Wilner Bae, 34, at the Petionville protest.

The electoral council president acknowledged there
were “some problems,” according to radio reports, but the council later
declared the vote a success.

The international community had pushed hard for the
vote, hoping it would produce a legitimate government that would help
jump start a reconstruction effort bogged down by indecision and red

One remarkable aspect of this election was that
people in neighborhoods long prone — and sometimes pressured — to vote
for one candidate now were pondering many. The populist former
President Jean Bertrand Aristide, who is in exile in South Africa,
dominated politics for the last two decades, with Preval elected twice
based largely on the perception he was Aristide’s protege.

But on Sunday, voters spoke openly about an array of candidates.

Twelve of the 18 presidential candidates called a news conference at the Karibe Hotel in the early afternoon to criticize the election. Celestin was not among them.

“We denounce in front of the Haitian people, in
front of the media in front of the international community, the massive
fraud that is being committed throughout the country, in a majority of
the voting centers,” said Josette Bijoux, one of the candidates,
reading their joint declaration.

“We demand the annulment pure and simple of these fake elections,” she said.

A big rally for popular singer Michel “Sweet Micky” Martelly arrived soon after. The singer climbed onto a pickup as supporters
swarmed around him and chanted impromptu slogans in Creole. “It’s not
his money, it’s our will!” they sang, a refrain once sung for Aristide.

U.N. spokesman Vincenzo Pugliese said the United Nations and the international community “express their
sincere concern over the numerous incidents that marked the unfolding
of the polling.” He urged calm, saying that a deterioration of security
would have dramatic consequences for victims of the cholera epidemic.

The electoral observation mission headed by the Organization of American States and Caribbean Community postponed a news conference it had scheduled in the afternoon. Colin Granderson, the chief of the observer mission, said it was still analyzing information from observers and would make a statement Monday.

One OAS official, who spoke on condition of
anonymity because he was not authorized to speak, said observers were
called back in the middle of the day due to security concerns.

At one of the polling stations he observed, 1,000
people lined up, but the list had only 39 names of people eligible to
vote. “At several bureaus there were no lists of voters,” he said.

At a sprawling tent camp off Delmas 33 road, men
angrily confronted poll workers and U.N. peacekeepers. “There’s 26,000
people in this camp and 840 ballots!” shouted George Kempes.

Lener Rene Gistre, 36, waited in line with a scowl.
He said Celestin was paying people to vote for him — but that it
wouldn’t work. “If anyone comes with money, we’ll take it and eat,” he
said. “But I’m alone in the voting booth.”

Gistre came to cast a ballot for Mirlande Manigat, a professor and longtime critic of Aristide, who was briefly first lady. Next to him, Margareth Edmond, 41, planned to vote for Henry Ceant, who some see as Aristide’s heir apparent.

“I love Ceant 100 percent because of Aristide,” she said.

Others around them chanting for Martelly. “He’s just been on my mind,” said Joseph Duchatelier, 35. “I don’t know why I like him. He’s just different”

While Celestin was second in recent polling, it was
very difficult to find support for him on the streets. Of dozens of
people interviewed at the polls Sunday, not one said they planned to
vote for him.

The morning started calmly, with far fewer people
lining up at polls than there were in the last national election. But
lines began to grow, as polling places opened late and the doors were
clotted with angry voters who could not find their names.

At a school in the seaside slum of Cite Soleil, Dieumercie Francois, 40, went from list to list trying to find hers. She started at 6 am. By 10 am, she still hadn’t found it. She planned to vote for Manigat, the leader in the recent polls.

“I think they’re trying to steal it,” she said.


(c) 2010, Los Angeles Times.

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Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.


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