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Tuesday, May 16, 2006

A Cloudy Dawn in Haiti - Time

Cautious optimism greets a reelected president, but the challenge he faces may be overwhelming

Haiti's President René Préval took office on Sunday, opening what many hope will be a new chapter in a history scarred by political violence and social and economic instability. "The solution to our country's problems is in our hands," Préval told thousands of supporters. "The solution begins with dialogue. No one else can do it for us, not the IMF, the World Bank, the InterAmerican Development Bank, the European Union, Bilateral Cooperation or the United Nations. We thank them for their support. Please, help me, help the country, help yourselves."

The 63-year old agronomist and former president is better known for being Haiti's only democratically elected head of state to complete his five-year term rather than for anything specific he accomplished while in office. But he has won high marks from even his strongest critics for his pro-active approach to this second term. Conscious of the short honeymoon period he will be granted to show signs of real change, he has traveled abroad in search of aid and investment. And at home he has held frank conversations with members of Haiti's fractured population, trying to win support from an antagonistic business sector, a hostile political community, skeptical media directors, and even gang leaders who had, for months on end, besieged the capital with kidnappings and criminal violence.

The initial response, across the board, has been prudently optimistic. "The last three months, he's said the right things," said presidential rival and vocal critic Charles Henri Baker. "If there's meat behind it, it could be great." Added one Western diplomatic, "He has reached out across the political divide, at home and abroad. He's building a new political tradition."

Préval's ability to deliver may depend on the extent to which donor countries deliver on their aid pledges — the previous interim government only received $850 million of the $1.4 billion it was pledged by the international community. Préval is counting on agricultural development and tourism to jumpstart the economy, but knows that Haiti has grown increasingly dependent on foreign aid to keep the economy afloat.

Unemployment is just one of multiple crises in a country that has seen its economy stuck in reverse gear for years: Two decades ago, 114 factories employed some 90,000 Haitians; today there are only 15 factories with slightly more than 15,000 employees. AG Textiles owner Georges Sassine, who employs about 400 people, has the capacity to create 5,000 new jobs in the next few months but for his precarious financial situation. For two years he has been hemorrhaging money; only in the last two months has he begun to break even. On his desk a baby jar full of spent cartridges collected on his property reminds him of the fragility of peace. "As a citizen who lived with Préval through the past, I look at him with a question mark. Since he was declared the winner, so far so good," Sassine says cautiously. "But the burden of proof is on him. My main concern? Security, security, security."

Providing security is currently mostly the preserve of some 9,000 U.N. peacekeepers under Brazilian command, on whom Préval will depend as long as the situation demands it. He plans to formally abolish the Haitian military, unofficially defunct since President Aristide dissolved it in 1995, although one of the greatest threats to Haiti's stability since then has come from the disgruntled former soldiers who eventually overthrew Aristide's government two years ago.

Préval also faces a challenge in rebuilding a police force whose own director admits that more than half its officers are corrupt. The United States, which helped in the creation and training of the force, has limited the distribution of weapons to police officers because of the criminal element in their ranks.

And beyond the security challenge, vestiges of a collapsing infrastructure are visible everywhere, from half-paved roads to unfinished public housing. Gasoline costs over $5 a gallon, and the parts of the capital buzz to the sounds of generators day and night in the absence of electricity. Even last week's parliamentary investiture was held in candlelight.

Local elections have been postponed indefinitely, hampering the functioning of government for the nearly 80 percent of Haitians who live outside of a handful of cities. And the absence of a majority party in the legislature forces Préval to seek consensus among a wide variety of parties on major appointments.

The unspoken question for many Haitians, is how much time Préval has to deliver before the guns that were used to destabilize previous governments reappear on the streets. He faces a daunting challenge in ensuring security and restoring the functioning of government and the economy, while cleansing the corruption that runs rampant throughout the public administration. The price of success will be the creation of many, very dangerous enemies.

The biggest threat of all, however, may come from within the Lavalas party of former President Aristide that helped carry Préval to power. Many in Préval's inner circle turn red in the face at the very mention of Aristide's name, but others are lobbying for his return from exile in South Africa. Préval has said that the constitution allows for Aristide's return, but the reelected President would be far happier if his controversial predecessor stayed put. Because to rebuild Haiti, he needs all of its stakeholders to be focused not on their longstanding conflicts, but instead on their future prospects.

Preval Begins Second term in Haiti

The president calls for unity in a nation occupied by foreign peacekeepers and deeply conflicted over exiled former leader Aristide.
By Carol J. Williams and Chantal Regnault, Special to The Times, May 15, 2006

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Rene Preval was sworn in Sunday as Haiti's president for the second time, restoring legitimacy to the troubled nation's government after more than two years of anarchy and violence that followed the flight of Jean-Bertrand Aristide to escape an armed rebellion.

A soft-spoken agronomist and Haiti's only president to serve out his full term, Preval, who previously served from 1996 to 2001, inherits a nation occupied by foreign peacekeepers, in economic ruin and deeply conflicted over the legacy and future of his predecessor, Aristide.

In a ceremony before Parliament, which hasn't functioned properly in five years, the red and blue presidential sash was bestowed on Preval, who then appealed in a 15-minute speech for national unity and social peace to pull Haiti out of its misery.

"Only we Haitians can solve our main problem, which is division. We have to work together. Foreigners can't do that for us," the new president said.

The inauguration was attended by 300 Haitian and foreign dignitaries including Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, while average Haitians thronged the streets, their ears bent to radios to follow the fanfare. Thousands massed outside the National Palace to cheer as the presidential party arrived for a reception and another brief address by Preval to those gathered on the manicured lawn or listening from behind the wrought-iron fences.

Less than a mile away, U.N. troops and Haitian police were called to quell a prison revolt that erupted with heavy gunfire hours before the inauguration, a reminder of the troubled path ahead for the new leader.

Preval, 63, won the Feb. 7 vote in the first round by winning a majority despite competition from more than 30 other contenders. He was seen as torchbearer of Aristide's unfulfilled aim of empowering the poor in a country of 8.5 million where wealth has long been controlled by a few dozen families. Preval served as Aristide's prime minister, as well as presidential place-holder during years when Aristide was ineligible to serve because of a constitutional prohibition against successive terms.

But some who voted for Preval did so in the expectation that he would bring back Aristide, currently languishing in a state guest house in South Africa.

Preval has said only that the constitution allows any Haitian to return to his homeland, stopping short of urging the return of his controversial predecessor. In February, Preval intimated to journalists that Aristide should keep in mind that criminal charges had been raised against him by the U.S.-backed interim government of Prime Minister Gerard Latortue put in power after Aristide left.

Many here and in foreign capitals believe Aristide would undermine Preval's authority and probably reignite the violence among gangs armed by Aristide's Lavalas movement.

The European-educated son of an affluent agrarian family, Preval has already made overtures to some in the industrial elite who were vehement opponents of Aristide and have made it clear they don't want the radical proponent of liberation theology back in the country.

With his Lespwa movement falling short of a majority in parliament, Preval will have to build alliances with political rivals to push through the legislation needed to begin extracting Haiti from its economic morass. The poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, Haiti has an unemployment rate of about 70%, and environmental disasters have ravaged food production.

Political analysts see a daunting road ahead for the new president but also a glimmer of hope.

Noting that Preval has inherited "a broken country from Latortue," analyst Mara van den Bold of the Washington-based Council on Hemispheric Affairs said he would have to act quickly to win public confidence.

"He must also prevent a flare-up of domestic political malcontents, create an effective coalition among the several parties in his government and constructively assess former President Aristide's possible request to return to Haiti," Van den Bold said.

Preval has also been urged by human rights groups to make a priority of reforming the corrupt and ineffectual justice system. Several Aristide allies have been imprisoned without charges since shortly after he fled to Africa on Feb. 29, 2004. Most prominent among the suspect detentions is that of former Prime Minister Yvon Neptune, which Preval has indicated will get his priority attention.

Times staff writer Williams reported from Miami and special correspondent Regnault from Port-au-Prince.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Haiti to hold crucial vote amid fear of violence

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (Reuters), Wed 19 Apr 2006,By Joseph Guyler Delva - Amid fears of political violence, Haiti prepares to vote in legislative elections that will determine if President-elect Rene Preval has enough support to govern the poorest country in the Americas.

The parliamentary run-off election will determine whether Preval will have an ally in the Caribbean country's next prime minister, who will be picked by parliament.

Authorities, analysts and the wealthy elite who lost when Preval, a champion of the poor, won a February 7 presidential election consider Friday's ballot crucial as Haiti tries to return to stability after the ouster two years ago of former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

But many ordinary Haitians seem unaware of the stakes, and there are signs turnout could be low. Preval, who will be sworn in on May 14, urged supporters to turn out in force.

"Without support from parliament, there is not much a president can do," Preval said.

Debate between candidates and parties has become fierce at the local level since Preval's first-round victory under the banner of his political platform "Lespwa," Creole for Hope.

Two candidates from rival parties also won first-round victories in races for the Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of parliament. That leaves 97 seats in the Chamber and all 30 Senate seats up for grabs in the April 21 runoff.

Under Haiti's constitution, the party holding at least half the seats of parliament will pick the prime minister.

No one party has enough candidates in the runoff to win the required majority.

As chief of government, the prime minister names all public administration functionaries, forms the cabinet, conducts government policies and presides over the National Police High Council, overseeing state security and safety. Parliament can fire him or her through a no-confidence vote.

Preval has been meeting candidates from rival parties to try to persuade them to join his platform, seeking a comfortable majority. A growing number of opponents have engaged in talks to join forces against his party.

Poverty is pervasive in Haiti, where the World Bank estimates annual income at $390 (218 pounds) per person. Coups and corruption have plagued two decades of attempts at democratic government and an unelected interim government has ruled since Aristide was driven out by an armed rebellion in 2004.

A U.N. peacekeeping mission in Haiti has launched an education campaign that includes radio commercials urging Haiti's 3.5 million registered voters to cast ballots.

But many voters complain that problems encountered in the chaotic first round of the election remain unsolved. They said they will have to walk miles (kilometres) to voting stations.

Police fear angry candidates who have been disqualified from the second round race could try to disrupt the election.

Violence has been reported in several towns, including the burning on Monday of a police station in Maissade, in the Central Plateau, said Haiti's police chief, Mario Andresol.

He said special security measures have been taken in "hot areas." U.N. peacekeepers also announced added security measures for the ballot.

"We know that there are places where angry disqualified candidates and other individuals are planning to disrupt the election," Andresol told Reuters. "We know there is a potential for violence, but the Haitian police and U.N. troops are prepared to quell any violent attack against the election."

(c) Reuters 2006. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution of Reuters content, including by caching, framing or similar means, is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Reuters. Reuters and the Reuters sphere logo are registered trademarks and trademarks of the Reuters group of companies around the world.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Haiti changes date again for runoff election

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, March 11 (Reuters) - Haiti's electoral authorities on Saturday brought forward slightly the date for runoff elections to pick senators and legislators.

Originally due to take place on March 19 and then rescheduled for April 23, the second-round vote will now take place on April 21, a Friday, ostensibly to allow officials the weekend to prepare for classes on Monday the schools that will be used as voting centers.

"We finally decided to organize the second round on April 21, which is a Friday, for practical reasons," Max Mathurin, president of the Provisional Electoral Council, told Reuters.

Elections are usually held on Sundays in Haiti, the poorest and most unstable country in the Americas.

An exception was the presidential election on Feb. 7, the first national ballot since former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was ousted in February 2004 by an armed revolt and under international pressure to quit.

Mathurin said the council decided to hold the runoff on a Friday to give election workers the whole weekend to put desks, chairs and other equipment back in place in time for schools to open on Monday.

"When we have the election on Friday, at least they will have Saturday and Sunday to starting cleaning and reorganizing," he said.

None of the contenders in the races held alongside the presidential election on Feb. 7 for 30 Senate seats and 99 seats in the lower house appear to have won the majority -- 50 percent plus one vote -- needed for a first-round victory.

President-elect Rene Preval, a onetime Aristide ally and like him a champion of the Caribbean nation's poor masses, was himself originally awarded just under 50 percent of the votes after a week of ballot counting.

But, fearing angry protests by his supporters and mindful of growing allegations of vote fraud seemingly aimed at denying Preval a first-round win, the electoral authorities decided to change the way they counted ballots with no votes cast on them and thereby handed him a victory.

Preval was originally supposed to take office on April 29, but his inauguration is expected to be delayed because of the inability to hold the second round of the legislative election on time. He could take office in the first week of May.

The party that holds a majority in parliament will pick a prime minister and form a government.

No party seems likely to obtain an outright majority but Preval has been meeting other parties in hopes of building a governing coalition that can bridge the deep divides in the country of 8.5 million, in particular the deep distrust between the poor and the small, wealthy elite.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Build strong electoral framework

BY KATHIE KLARREICH--The lasting image I have of Election Day in Haiti last month was just after sundown. I was standing outside the hollow shell of a building where 43 tables, or polling stations, were located. Poll workers who had been on site for more than 14 hours were huddled around a single candle per table, the only light available for the polling booth president to read the ballot, pass it around to political party observers for confirmation and then have the secretary record the vote on a master tally sheet. I left before the last vote was counted, bleary-eyed and discouraged that after so many years, so many elections, so many battles to get to this celebratory day of democracy, this was the best that Haitians were going to get.

Election a disgrace

While I admit that it's hard to build an electoral framework without an infrastructure, this was the fourth presidential election I've witnessed in the last 18 years, and I know I am not setting the bar too high by saying that it was a disgrace.

The entire procedure, from the ill-conceived voting booths to the dismal tabulation process was an insult to the Haitian people. It's hard to understand how, with a $75 million budget covered by the international community, a bloated electoral calendar that included four postponements over three months and well-paid -- if not over-paid -- international experts from the United Nations and the Organization of American States, there could have been so much mayhem and magouy -- a catchall Creole word that means corruption, deceit and swindling.

Which begs the questions: Why? And then what, if anything, can be done to rectify the problem for the 129 parliamentary seats and numerous local spots yet to be determined? Although the runoffs were originally set for March 19, they have already been postponed. Unfortunately, the delay appears to be related to technical tally difficulties and the flight of the Provisional Electoral Council president rather than an aptly concentrated effort to identify and correct the massive fraud that took place in the first round.

What went wrong?

If I were a conspiracy theorist, I would say that this is part of a master plan by the international community to undermine President-elect René Préval, who can't govern until he has a prime minister, chosen in conjunction with the parliament. Préval's previous record as president has the international community concerned that he will either realign himself with ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, or govern as an independent, truly democratic leader with an unprecedented popular mandate.

With no investigation into all that went wrong with the first round of voting, and because there will be far less attention paid to these upcoming elections now that the presidency has been decided, there will be an even greater chance for irregularity. Voters will trek long distances, confront incomplete registration lists and then cast their vote without knowing if it will be counted because poll workers with political agendas know precisely how much they were able to get away with already. Tinkering with tally sheets, allowing voters to cast multiple ballots and stuffing the ballot box will, in some places -- particularly those in the hard to reach areas in the countryside -- be the norm, rather than the exception.

Expose the problems

There were more than a thousand national observers and three international observation teams for Haiti's first round. These groups have been shamefully silent. Sending internal memos and holding backroom discussions on electoral discrepancies with foreign diplomats and Haitian officials without demanding changes or exposing the problems and their sources to the press serves only to massage their egos and pad their pockets. It does nothing to advance the democratic process in Haiti. If this is the best that they can do, they should stay home.

It doesn't have to be this way. We have to demand that our dollars are put to better use, propping up Haitian institutions that will hold the Haitian state accountable. We need to be selective but generous in supporting specific grass-roots groups, some of which trained local observers who did their best to try to ensure fraud-free elections. The vast majority of the 37,000 poll workers and nearly 2.1 million who voted want, and deserve, at least that much.

Kathie Klarreich is a freelance journalist and author of Madame Dread: A Tale of Love, Vodou and Civil Strife in Haiti.

Inauguration of new Haiti leader to be delayed

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, March 2 (Reuters) - The inauguration of Haiti's new president, scheduled for March 29, will be postponed because the legislative assembly that administers the oath will not exist by then, officials said.

The chaotic Caribbean country's electoral council said on Thursday that a run-off election for senate and lower chamber seats would not take place as planned on March 19, delaying the installation of a Haiti's first elected government since former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide was ousted in 2004.
"We are already behind schedule. It is clear that the run-off election can no longer take place on March 19," said the president of the nine-member council, Max Mathurin.

"So that situation will affect the date set for the inauguration of the new president, because there'll be no parliament."

Ex-president Rene Preval, a one-time protege of Aristide, won a general election on Feb. 7 after fears of violence and widespread suspicions of vote fraud persuaded the electoral authorities to change the way they counted blank ballots and give him a first-round victory.

Backed by the poor masses in the slums where Aristide also found most of his support, Preval is mistrusted by the same wealthy elite who helped send Aristide into exile.

The electoral council did not set a new date for the second round of the legislative ballot, in which the two leading candidates for each of 30 senate seats and 99 lower house seats will compete.

Council members blamed the delay partly on street protests by President-elect Preval's supporters in the week it took for authorities to announce the Feb. 7 election result.

Preval's political platform called "Lespwa," or Creole for Hope, leads in the legislative election. Based on first-round results, Lespwa seems likely to gain 16 senate seats and 34 seats in the lower chamber. The party that holds a majority in parliament will pick a prime minister and form a government.

Preval has begun negotiations with rival candidates to try and form a governing coalition in parliament.

Preval on Thursday visited the Dominican Republic, Haiti's neighbor on the island on Hispaniola.

Bilateral relations have long been strained by mistrust and racism. Up to a million Haitian illegal immigrants work on Dominican farms or construction sites in conditions that human rights workers say are not far removed from slavery.

Preval is also expected to travel to Chile, Argentina and Brazil whose countries have deployed troops under the United Nations to help stabilize Haiti.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

European Union Declaration on the Presidential Election In Haiti

Declaration by the Presidency on behalf of the European Union following the presidential election in Haiti

Brussels, 21 February 2006 - In view of the preliminary statement by the European Union Election Observation Mission, the European Union expresses its satisfaction that the presidential and parliamentary elections of 7 February passed off peacefully and notes that they will have marked an important step forward for the democratic process.

The European Union welcomes the high turnout by and the serious engagement of the people of Haiti in exercising their democratic right to choose their future leaders, despite the major technical and logistical problems encountered during the organisation of the vote.

The European Union welcomes the fact that a significant turning point has been reached in carrying through the democratic transition process.

The European Union congratulates the President of Haiti, Mr René Préval, on his new mandate and reaffirms its lasting commitment to the people and authorities of Haiti in their efforts to rebuild and develop their country.

The European Union underlines the importance of the second round of parliamentary elections and hopes that their successful conduct will serve to cement the rule of law and complete the establishment of strong, stable institutions capable of completely fulfilling the role assigned to them under the Constitution.

As Haiti enters a new chapter in its history, it is vital that all political and social forces make national reconciliation the watchword for the dialogue they pursue, in order to achieve the political, economic and social stability that the country needs for its development.

The Acceding Countries Bulgaria and Romania, the Candidate Countries Turkey, Croatia* and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia*, the Countries of the Stabilisation and Association Process and potential candidates Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Montenegro, and the EFTA countries Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway, members of the European Economic Area, as well as Ukraine and the Republic of Moldova align themselves with this declaration.

* Croatia and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia continue to be part of the Stabilisation and Association Process.

Haiti Election Chief Flees Country

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Monday, February 20, 2006 (AP) -- The head of Haiti's electoral council fled the country after opponents threatened his life and burned down his farmhouse nearly two weeks after disputed elections, an official said Monday.

Jacques Bernard, appointed three months ago to bring order to a council that was plagued by organizational problems and infighting, left Sunday and may have traveled to Miami, said Michel Brunache, chief of staff for interim President Boniface Alexandre.

On Friday, Bernard had reported receiving threats and requested more security amid complaints about the vote count from the Feb. 7 elections, which returned former President Rene Preval to the office, Brunache said.

"He said he was afraid for himself and his family and said he wanted more security," Brunache told The Associated Press. "I was shocked when I heard he had left."

The U.N. peacekeeping mission in Haiti said it didn't know Bernard's whereabouts.

Bernard had kept a low profile since the nine-member council declared Preval the president on Thursday, eight days after the long-awaited vote.

Preval, who received four times as many votes as his nearest rival, was declared the victor after the electoral council agreed to divide 85,000 blank ballots among the 33 candidates proportionally according to the votes they had received. That gave Preval the 51 percent he needed to avoid a runoff.

Throngs of Preval supporters flooded the streets after the polls, denouncing the delay in releasing the results and accusing Bernard of manipulating the vote count to deny Preval a first-round victory _ a charge Bernard has denied.

Wimhurst confirmed that Bernard's ranch in a town just northeast of the capital of Port-au-Prince was burned and looted over the weekend.

After the incident, Bernard went on local radio to denounce some council members who have accused him of withholding information and excluding them from important decisions.

Bernard's absence could throw the vote-counting for legislative elections into disarray. Logistical delays have already slowed the result tabulation, and electoral officials will likely have to postpone the scheduled March 19 runoff, officials say.

"If Mr. Bernard leaves Haiti, it will be catastrophic because he is the only man on the council who was professional," said Micha Gaillard, spokesman for the Fusion party. "Without him we fear we could be in a situation where the legislative results will not be published."

Council member Patrick Fequiere criticized Bernard as a "megalomaniac" who abused the power of the council. "I believe that he had a political agenda," Fequiere said on Radio Vision 2000.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Haiti election authority says fraud tainted vote

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Friday, February 17, 2006; 2:50 PM (Reuters) - Haiti's presidential election was tainted by signs of fraud including blank ballots that represented a third of the votes cast in some polling stations, electoral authorities said on Friday.

The conclusion of fraud served as a defense of the Provisional Electoral Council's decision a day earlier to hand the election to Rene Preval, a champion of Haiti's poor who had complained over the ballot irregularities. The finding conflicts with statements from some international organizations.

In addition to the blank ballots, in other polling stations the number of ballots left over at the end of the day was less than the number of people who had voted would indicate.

"The blank ballots were probably introduced into the ballot boxes in a fraudulent manner," Max Mathurin, president of the electoral council, told Vision 2000 radio, "This looked weird," he said.

It was the council's first public acknowledgment that the February 7 election was tainted by what Preval called massive fraud.

The council on Thursday morning gave the election to Preval after he complained about the large number of ballots that had been left unmarked by voters. The total number of blank votes amounted to between 85,000 and 90,000, Mathurin said, out of 2.2 million votes cast.

The blank ballots reduced Preval's vote share to less than the majority needed for a first-round victory. Several of Preval's rival candidates had earlier agreed to join forces against him in the event of a second round.

Blank ballots are a common way to express a protest vote in established democracies. But few Haitians believed that their fellow voters were unable to find a suitable candidate among the 33 rivals running for the presidency.

Nor was it likely that all those people would have walked miles (km) and waited in line for hours, just to leave ballot papers unmarked, Mathurin said.

The discovery of half-burned votes, many cast for Preval, on a garbage dump in Port-au-Prince fueled suspicions and the final straw was when the council discovered the large numbers of blank votes in some polling stations -- numbers it could not believe were legitimate.

"In some polling stations, blank ballots totaled a quarter of the votes, and in some others, one third of the votes," Mathurin said.

He blamed polling-station workers, who were often all of the same political persuasion.

He also said that 4 percent of votes could not be found. Preval was granted a first-round victory with 50.15 percent after 96 percent of ballots had been counted.

Some international organizations said the election was clean.

"There was no fraud," Jose Miguel Insulza, secretary general of the Organization of American States, said on Thursday. "The votes were properly counted, and despite some reports, there should be no talk about fraud and nobody can prove there were irregularities."

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Haiti Elections: What About the Fraud Allegations?

Open letter to Juan Gabriel Valdes, United Nations special envoy to Haiti.

Dear Mr Valdes,

The British solidarity organisation, the Haiti Support Group, notes the decision taken by the Haitian authorities to override the electoral law and to no longer include blank votes in the valid votes total, and we understand that this decision was taken in order to avoid further instability. Mr Rene Preval has won the presidency, but we remain very concerned about the charges of fraud and vote-rigging that have not yet been addressed.

While the popular will favouring a Preval presidency may have been acknowledged, we are concerned that the mass of the population will still lack confidence in the electoral process if the questions surrounding the 7 February elections are not resolved. Indeed, if the allegations of vote-rigging and fraud are not cleared up, how can anyone be sure that the results of the Parliamentary elections that took place on the same day, but that have not so been mentioned, will be an accurate reflection of the electorate's intentions? If the legitimacy of the new Parliament is in doubt, political instability will continue.

In this context, the Haiti Support Group is writing to request clarification from the MINUSTAH on three issues relating to suspicions of vote-rigging, fraud, and/or manipulation of the results in Haiti's first round presidential and legislative elections on 7 February 2006.

1) Missing, stolen and destroyed ballot papers.

Following the discovery of ballot papers at the Truitier municipal dump , the MINUSTAH's David Wimhurst was reported by both Reuters and the Associated Press as suggesting that the discarded ballots could have come from nine polling stations outside Port-au-Prince ransacked during the election, with the loss of around 35,000 votes. We can only assume that Mr Wimhurst's comments have been misquoted, and that the number of missing votes is nowhere near as many as 35,000, but what is desperately needed is an informed and accurate statement answering the following questions:

a) Where did the ballot papers found at Truitier came from, and had they been counted already?

b) If they had not been counted already, how many ballot papers were found at Truitier? Was it hundreds, or thousands, or tens of thousands? Obviously the approximate number of ballots found is a crucial issue with regard to whether - if uncounted - the Truitier ballot papers could have significantly influenced the election results.

c) Mr Wimhurst speculated that the Truitier ballot papers could have been taken from ransacked polling stations, but exactly how many polling stations were ransacked, and how many ballots went missing? In an interview with Radio Metropole, on 15 February, Mr Wimhurst said, "these materials could have come from one or more polling places that were vandalized on election day, when people stole the ballots and all the materials." How many votes were lost in these incidents, and is the number large enough to significantly alter the results?

Where were these polling stations? (in the footnote, please see a partial tally of election day incidents that may have resulted in the theft or destruction of votes.)

d) How was it that such a number of polling stations came to be ransacked on election day, when the MINUSTAH had specifically reduced the number of polling centres to just over 800 in the entire country so that its 9,000 or so troops and police could provide an effective security presence? Where was that security presence when these polling stations were ransacked?

2) Blank ballot papers.

Of the 1.973 million votes cast and so far tabulated, 85,000 were blank votes - that is 4% of all votes cast. Is this a credible percentage? How does it compare with the percentage of blank votes cast in previous elections?

What is the explanation for the fact that in the (closely monitored?) West department, only 2.8% of valid votes were blank, whereas in the more remote (and less closely monitored?) Centre department, the percentage was 9.1%? Is there any connection between the differing percentages of blank votes, and the differing percentage of votes won by the Lespwa candidate: 61% in the West compared to 34% in the Centre?

Were blank votes deliberately added to the ballot boxes in order to influence the results?

3) Other invalid ballot papers.

Of the 1.973 million votes cast and so far tabulated, 148,000 were declared invalid for other reasons - that is 7.5% of all votes cast. Is this a credible percentage? How does it compare with the percentage of invalid votes cast in previous elections?

What is the explanation for the fact that in the (closely monitored?) West department, only 5.2% of valid votes were declared invalid, whereas in the more remote (and less closely monitored?) Nippes department, the percentage was 13.8%? Is there any connection between the differing percentages of invalid votes, and the percentage of votes won by the Lespwa candidate: 61% in the West compared to 39% in Nippes?

Were what should have been valid votes, declared invalid in order to influence the results?

In relation to points 2) and 3) we are quite ready to accept reasonable explanations for the discrepancies between the results in the West and those in other departments, but, as you will appreciate, without any explanations, without any comparison with earlier election results, suspicions are aroused. (We know of course that the presidential elections in 2000 and 1995 were marred by very low turnouts and for that reason might not make good comparisons, but the legislative elections in both years had high rates of participation and the results from those contests could provide useful comparisons.)

While we fully understand the desire of many players involved in Haiti to press ahead with the election calendar and move on to the second round run-offs for the Parliament and to the local government elections, the Haiti Support Group believes that before this can happen it is essential to conduct a thorough and transparent investigation into these various issues. If these issues are not addressed, confidence in the electoral authorities will not be restored, and the credibility of the next steps in the electoral calendar will be fatally undermined.
Haiti has already suffered from years of political deadlock and suspended development assistance resulting from the disputed results of the May 2000 legislative elections. Everything must be done to avoid a repetition of that situation.

Yours sincerely,

Charles Arthur
Director, the Haiti Support Group

Reports of election day incidents involving the theft or destruction of

In the North-West department - "Individuals set fire to the election office in the commune of Bombarde. Several pregnant women were hit. Some of them fainted. The police arrested several individuals." Source:, 8 February 2006.

Also in the North-West department: "In Bombardopolis, supporters of the MIRN, Alyans, Lespwa and Union candidates entered the polling station in the evening and destroyed the voting materials. As a result, there are no results for the town or for the 2nd and 3rd sections." Source: Commission Episcopale Nationale Justice et Paix, 9 February 2006

In the Centre department - "Armed men, with their faces covered, disrupted the voting process in the commune of Lascahobas: voters fled and did not return." Source:, 8 February 2006.

In the Artibonite department: "In Verrettes, 12 people, two of them candidates for Deputy, were arrested on Tuesday when they attempted to disrupt the voting process. The two candidates concerned were from the l'Artibonite en Action
(LAA) and Fusion parties." Source: Signal FM, 9 February 2006.

Also in the Artibonite: "In Grande Saline (section Poteneau), three Deputy candidates (LAA, Mochrena and Fusion) destroyed ballot papers. In Martineau (section La Chapelle) supporters of the LAA and Fusion parties did the same thing." Source: Commission Episcopale Nationale Justice et Paix, 9 February

In the Grand Anse department: "In Bourdon, in the commune of Chambellan, an election centre containing 12 polling stations was set on fire, and all the election materials and ballot papers were destroyed." Source: Signal FM, 9 February 2006. February 18, 2006.

Declaration - Charles Henri Baker

Le Regroupement RESPE / KONBA prend acte de la décision du CEP de déclarer René Garcia Préval vainqueur du scrutin du 7 février, en ignorant les prescrits de l’article 185 du décret électoral relatif au traitement du vote blanc.

Cette décision, dictée par la pression des rues, la pression de l’ exécutif et une partie de l’international, laisse présager un futur sombre pour la démocratie de notre pays.

Force est de constater, que les idéaux démocratiques qui ont justifié notre engagement dans la compétition électorale, ont été foulés au pied par ceux- la même qui étaient chargés d’en faire respecter les règles. Qu’on ne s’y trompe pas, il ne s’agit pas pour nous de contester ici la personnalité ou la popularité du candidat de LESPWA, mais de prendre plutôt, une position de principe contre une gestion électorale opaque, entachée de nombreuses irrégularités. Ceci porte à questionner l’avenir du processus, étant donné que les élections présidentielles n’en sont qu’une partie.

Le Regroupement RESPE / KONBA réitère ses réserves les plus vives contre un processus qui a interdit que la formidable mobilisation populaire du 7 février et son cortège d’espérances ne portent les fruits que la nation Haïtienne dans son ensemble était en droit d’attendre. Le Regroupement continue les consultations avec ses partenaires en vue de trouver des pistes de solution pour un avenir meilleur pour tous. Il saisit l’opportunité pour présenter ses sympathies à tous ceux et celles qui ont été victimes des actes de violence durant ces derniers jours.

Je m’en voudrais de ne pas prendre l’occasion pour souligner ici que le gouvernement de monsieur Préval, devrait être le gouvernement de tous les Haïtiens pour cinq ans. Je souhaite sa réussite car sa défaite ou sa faillite sera celle de tous les Haïtiens.

Nou nan mem bato-a… si li koule, nou tout ap fè fon.

Opinion -- Haiti Elections: The Right Result For The Wrong Reason

by Brian Concannon Jr. Friday, Feb. 17, 2006 at 8:06 AM, 541-432-0597 PO Box 745, Joseph, OR 97846 -- On February 7, Haitian voters went to the polls to elect a President for the fourth time since 1990. Through great patience and determination they overcame official disorganization, incompetence and discrimination, and for the fourth time since 1990 handed their chosen candidate a landslide victory. And for the fourth time Haitian elites, with support from the International Community, started immediately to undercut the victory, seeking at the negotiation table what they could not win at the voting booth.

The foothold for the negotiation was an impasse over whether the successful candidate, Rene Preval, won the 50% of the vote necessary to avoid a runoff election against his nearest competitor. Although early official results and the unofficial tallies by the Preval campaign, international observers and journalists all showed Mr. Preval comfortably above the 50% bar, after 5 days of counting his official results crept 1.3% below it.

The negotiations resulted in a deal that changes the way that the Electoral Council treats blank ballots, which, according to the Council’s calculation, puts Mr. Preval back above 50%. By giving Mr. Preval the election, the agreement closes the book on serious charges that the Interim Government of Haiti (IGH) manipulated vote tabulations and discarded ballots to prevent him from winning. It also allows the international community to say, after two years under the brutal and undemocratic IGH, that there is now democracy in Haiti.

The election deal gives a little something to everyone, and that’s the problem. Elections are not supposed to make everyone happy; they are supposed to apportion political power according to majority vote, on the basis of set rules. In all likelihood, a correct tabulation of the votes would have given Mr. Preval a first round victory, as exit polls and unofficial tabulations had predicted. Although the negotiated agreement reaches the same result as a correct tabulation would have reached, it does so by changing the rules instead of correcting the violations of the rules.

The deal provides leverage for those seeking to delegitimize Preval’s presidency and block the progressive social and economic policies that he was elected to implement. The election’s also-rans are already crying foul, and they will be joined by more voices from Haiti’s elite and the International Community. Soon enough, invoking “the contested elections of February 2006” will suffice to justify an array of economic and political coercion against Haiti’s elected government.

Even Leslie Manigat, the second place finisher, wins with the deal. He earned less than 12% of the votes the first time around, and had no chance of winning a fair second round vote. There were 17,000 more mistakes- unmarked or improperly marked ballots- than Manigat votes. Even if all 30 of the other losing candidates had thrown their support behind Mr. Manigat- and many had already declared for Preval- he still would have been far short of a victory.

The deal spares Mr. Manigat a drubbing in the second round, and more importantly, allows him to claim, forever, that he was cheated out of a chance to win on the second round. He got this ball rolling by immediately calling a press conference to criticize the International Community and the IGH for caving into the threat of violence.

Mr. Manigat is right that no one should have caved into the threat of violence. But they should have caved into the clear popular vote in favor of Mr. Preval.

The Problem
The defective vote tabulation is just the latest in a long string of efforts to minimize the impact of the poor voters who backed Preval. The IGH engaged in a comprehensive program to suppress political activities of the Lavalas movement, where Mr. Preval drew most of his support, in the ten months before the elections. Several prominent politicians were not able to participate as candidates or activists because they were kept in jail illegally. Political prisoners included Haiti’s last constitutional Prime Minister, a former member of the House of Deputies, the former Minister of the Interior, and dozens of local officials and grassroots activists. When Haiti’s most prominent dissident, Rev. Gerard Jean-Juste, was diagnosed with leukemia, it took a massive campaign, including intervention of top U.S. Republicans, just to obtain his provisional release for desperately needed treatment.

Making Registration Difficult
The voting registration process systematically discouraged poor rural and urban voters from signing up. Where Haiti’s democratic government provided over 10,000 voter registration centers for elections in 2000, the IGH installed less than 500. The offices would have been too few and far between for many voters even if they had been evenly distributed. But placement was heavily weighted in favor of areas likely to support the IGH and its allies. Halfway through the registration period, for example, there were three offices in the upscale suburb of Petionville, and the same number in the large and largely roadless Central Plateau Department. In cities, the poor neighborhoods were the last to get registration centers, and Cite Soleil, the largest poor neighborhood of all, never got one.

Complaints and protests forced the IGH to extend the registration period three times and open additional registration facilities. Eventually over 3.5 million voters registered, about three-quarters of the estimated eligible voters. But we will never know how many voters could not get to a registration center, or gave up after losing too many precious work days in the effort. We do know that the registration difficulties disproportionately impacted the rural and urban poor, who voted overwhelmingly for Preval.

Making Campaigning Difficult
Neither the Lavalas movement nor the Preval campaign was able to effectively engage in pre-election campaigning. Police repeatedly fired guns at peaceful pro-Lavalas demonstrations throughout the two years of the IGH’s reign. In January, a pro-government gang destroyed structures erected for a Preval campaign speech in the town of St. Marc, canceling the event. No arrests were made. Violence and threats of violence forced the cancellation of subsequent events, even the campaign’s grand finale the week before the election.
Election Day Vote Suppression

The IGH had limited the voting centers to 807, which would have been inadequate even if the elections had run smoothly (Los Angeles County, with a slightly larger population but only 37% of Haiti’s land area and infinitely better private and public transportation, had about 4,400 polling places in November 2005). But by 1 PM on election day, Reuters’ headline read: “Chaos, fraud claims mar Haiti election.” Most election offices opened late and lacked ballots or other materials; many did not become fully functional until mid-afternoon. Voters arrived at the designated centers to find the center had been moved at the last minute. Many who found the center identified on their voting card waited in line for hours only to be told they could not vote because their names were not on the list. At some centers, tens of thousands of voters were crammed into a single building, creating confusion, and in one case a deadly stampede.

As with the registration deficiencies, the poor bore the lion’s share of the election day problems. The two voting centers for Cite Soleil, both located well outside the neighborhood, saw the worst. One of the two, the Carrefour Aviation site, was transferred at the last minute to a single building where 32,000 voters had to find the right line to wait in without posted instructions, lists of names or an information center. Throughout the day, journalists and observers noted over and over that centers in Petionville and other wealthy areas were better organized and equipped.

As with registration, many voters persevered despite the obstacles. After frustrated would-be voters took to the streets in spontaneous protests, the IGH made concessions, such as keeping the polls open later and allowing people with voting cards whose names were not on the local list to vote in some places. By the end of the day, most voting centers were operating at a minimal level, and over 60% of registered voters did vote. But we will never know how many people gave up, because they were sick or frustrated or needed to get back to their families.

Counting Some of the Votes

After the problems with registration and voting, Mr. Preval’s supporters were pleasantly surprised that the Provisional Electoral Council, or CEP, gave him a large lead in initial reports. On Thursday, the CEP announced that with 22% of the votes counted, Preval had a commanding lead with 62% of the vote. Mr. Manigat trailed at 11%, and Charles Henri Baker, in third place, had 6%. Unofficial reports of the local results from international and Haitian observers and journalists consistently had Preval far over 50%. But by Saturday night the CEP had reduced Preval’s official vote to 49.61%; by Monday it was at 48.7%, about 22,500 votes below 50%.

The IGH claims that Preval’s decrease was the result of more information coming in and better calculations. But many questions about the tabulation process, combined with the efforts to suppress the Lavalas vote before and during election day, raise doubts about those claims. On Tuesday afternoon, Mr. Preval claimed that he had proof that he won 54% of the vote and that the Electoral Council had fraudulently reduced his number.

Shortly after Mr. Preval’s announcement, Haitian television broadcast such proof: thousands of ballots, some burnt, most of them Preval votes, found in a dump near Cite Soleil, and not far from the CEP’s tabulation center. Preval’s opponents claim that his supporters dumped the ballots as a provocation after his speech. But that theory does not explain why witnesses report seeing the ballots at the dump for a day before the speech, nor how thousands of ballots were removed from CEP custody.

A large number of tally sheets from polling centers are not being counted. 254 sheets were destroyed, reportedly by gangs from political parties opposed to Preval. 504 tally sheets reportedly lack the codes needed to enter them officially. The missing tally sheets probably represent about 190,000 votes- over 9% of the total votes cast- and according to the UN, disproportionately affect poor areas that support Preval. Mr. Preval would not have needed to win an overwhelming percentage of these 190,000 votes to increase his lead by the 22,500.

Who’s In Charge?

The Electoral Council, which was named through a complicated process in 2004, is supposed to be running the tabulation of votes. In fact, Jacques Bernard, who was appointed “Executive Director” of the Council- a position not previously recognized in Haitian law- by the Prime Minister late last year, is running the Council’s activities. Councilor Pierre Richard Duchemin charges Mr. Bernard with “manipulation” of the results, and “an effort to stop people from asking questions.” Another Councilor, Patrick Fequiere, claims that Mr. Bernard is working without the Council and not telling them where his information is coming from. The UN Peacekeeping mission was forced to remove the doors to the tabulation center to prevent Mr. Bernard and his advisors from acting secretly.

Null and Blank Votes

Electoral officials have discarded 147,765 votes, over 7% of the total, as “null.” Article 185 of the Electoral Code allows officials to nullify ballots if they “cannot recognize the intention or political will of the elector.” As the U.S. experience with butterfly ballots and hanging chads demonstrated, voters are going to make mistakes even under the best conditions. Haiti’s conditions were far from the best- Presidential ballots were complicated, with 33 candidates, each with a photo, an emblem and the names of the candidate and the party; voters were tired from walking and waiting; some voting was done in the dark by candlelight; and many voters are unused to filling out forms or writing. All these factors could lead to a high number of mistakes-like marking two boxes- that made determining the voters’ choice impossible.

But 147,765 voided votes is a high number, suspiciously high since the decision to nullify was made by local officials handpicked by an Electoral Council that had no representation from Preval’s Lespwa party or Lavalas. Overly strict criterion (such as requiring an “x” to be completely within a candidate’s box), even if neutrally applied, would have had a disproportionate impact on poor voters, who are more unused to filling out forms than their better-heeled compatriots, and therefore more likely to make mistakes.

Another group of votes, 85,290, or 4.6% of he total valid votes, are classified as blank ballots. These votes were actually counted against Preval, because under the election law they are included in the total number of valid votes that provides the baseline for the 50% threshold. This is a potentially reasonable system, just unreasonably applied to Haiti. In principle the system allows voters to show their displeasure with all the candidates by voting for no one, which can make sense in places where voting is easier. In practice the system makes no sense in Haiti- it is absurd to think that 85,000 people, many without enough to eat, would leave their babies, their fields and other work and spend hours walking or waiting in the tropical heat just to say they did not like any of the 33 candidates. A more likely explanation is that some voters got confused by the complicated ballots and marked nothing. Again, this problem would disproportionately affect poor voters likely to vote for Preval.

The blank and null ballots combined exceeded Mr. Manigat’s vote by 17,000. The rules for blank and null votes are consistent with previous Haitian elections, so it is hard to call the rules themselves fraudulent. But the scale of the distortion of the vote caused by these rules was both foreseeable and preventable. The same problem has arisen at every election since 1990, most of which were observed by the UN and the Organization of American States, which were active in preparing the elections this time around. The distortion could be sharply reduced with a simple voter education campaign: going into poor neighborhoods, demonstrating how to mark ballots and giving voters an opportunity to practice on sample ballots.

There was money available for such a program- the election cost over $70 million dollars, more than $30 for every vote cast- most of it coming from abroad. The political parties, many of which represented a fraction of one percent of the electorate, received generous subsidies. But no concerted effort was made to help the much larger share of the voters who had demonstrated difficulty with filling out the ballots.

The Best Solution

The remedy to the problems with the vote tabulation should have been to carefully redo the calculations, in the open. First, the math from all the calculations that were previously made should have been checked against the original tally sheets. Where the tally sheets lacked the codes, the local officials should have been tracked down to confirm that the results are correct.

In the case of electoral materials intercepted on the way to the CEP, it is possible to reconstruct the result through the Electoral Code’s backup systems. The actual counting of the ballots is done on site, immediately after the closing of the polls, by each Bureau de Vote (each Bureau serves 400 voters). The Bureau officials conduct the counting, but are observed by mandataires, or representatives of political parties. A report listing the results of the counting is prepared, and at least six copies are made. The Bureau officials and the mandataires all sign each of the copies if they agree with the report. The copies are then distributed widely: one is posted on the voting center door, one copy each is sent to the Communal Electoral Office, the Departmental Electoral Office, and the Electoral Council, and each mandataire is entitled to one.

Presumably these copies will leave the Bureau in many different directions. It may be easy to intercept the official results in some areas, but it would be much harder to track down all the copies in the hands of mandataires. It would be difficult for a mandataire to introduce a fraudulent copy of the results that were intercepted, because that would require forging several signatures.

The null votes could have been rechecked through a procedure that applied consistent rules across the country. The null ballots are supposed to be segregated in a separate envelope, so it would be easy to go through the envelopes from a few Bureaus, to ascertain whether there were enough improperly nullified ballots to justify a comprehensive review. If Preval could have added 22,500 votes to his lead from the 147,000 null votes, this alone would have put him over the top.

The blank ballot rule is inappropriate, and it should be changed. But it should be changed for Haiti’s next election, when it should be less of a problem anyway because of better voter education.

The ballots found in the Cite Soleil dump could have been traced. All ballots are numbered, and each Bureau keeps a record of the numbers on the ballots it used and did not use. The chain of custody could have been followed, to see how the ballots left CEP custody.

Following these procedures would have been time consuming, but it would have provided verifiable answers to the questions raised about the vote tabulation, and a clear answer as to whether Mr. Preval needed to face a second round. It also would have provided other answers- whether the charges of manipulation in the tabulations were justified, and who diverted the ballots to the Cite Soleil dump.

In giving up his right to a correct tabulation of the vote, Mr. Preval probably calculated that the international community, which had not complained about the inadequate registration and voting facilities, and only lightly complained about the IGH’s political prisoners, would show similar restraint when faced with tabulation irregularities. And he knew that if the first round could be stolen from him, the second round could as well.

The Chosen Solution

The negotiators, instead of correcting the tabulation, decided to change the rules for the calculation of blank votes. They allotted blank votes to the candidates’ totals proportionately to each one’s existing vote share. So Preval got 48.7% of the blank votes, Manigat 12%, etc., which pushed Preval up over the 50% bar. This solution does make sense- it assumes, probably correctly, that the blank votes resulted from confusion, and allocates the votes accordingly. The result is the same as if the CEP simply discarded the blank votes, and treated them the same as null votes.

But what is sensible is not always what is legal. Preval’s opponents know that a regime that can be negotiated into power can be negotiated out of power. They have already staked out the position that Preval is illegitimate because the deal changed the rules of the game in the middle of the contest. They will keep saying it, and will soon enough be joined by the International Community who will keep saying it. In the not-too-distant future, the election’s illegitimacy will be accepted as “fact” in the elite Haitian and international press, at the UN, the OAS and the International Financial Institutions. The “fact” will justify withholding money for schools and hospitals, and sending money to political parties with no electoral support. The fact that Mr. Manigat had no chance of winning a second round, widely acknowledged now, will be forgotten or never learned by the next rotation of diplomats and journalists to Haiti.


An editorial in this Friday’s New York Times proclaims that this future begins now. The Times declares that the election deal “tarnishes the democratic legitimacy” of Preval’s landslide. It recommends that Preval remove the tarnish by “reaching out to his opponents” (e.g. pursuing policies that the voters rejected), and “reining in his violence-prone supporters.” The editorial did not suggest that Mr. Preval’s opponents, many of whom were key players in the violent overthrow of Haiti’s democracy two years ago which led to thousands of deaths, rein in their supporters. Nor, when it declared that “Haiti will need international support for a long time,” did the Times mention its own groundbreaking report of January 29 that the U.S., among other members of the International Community, intentionally undermined and overthrew Haiti’s elected government in 2004.

Although the Times does not find the context of two weeks or two years ago relevant, it does catalogue Preval’s sins from his first administration, and it is a fair bet that we will hear this list often over the next five years. The police “remained brutal and corrupt” (by any account, the police have become much more brutal and much more corrupt under the IGH); “no progress was made toward creating a competent judiciary” (Preval’s administration saw the two best human rights prosecutions in Haiti’s history in 2000, both lauded by the UN, Amnesty International and, among others, the New York Times; Preval also made the Judges Academy, dismantled by the IGH, operational); “legislative elections were badly flawed;” “drug trafficking flourished;” etc.

Last week’s election was Haiti’s fourth Presidential election since 1990. The previous three- 1990, 1995 and 2000- were all conducted without serious violence. Each time, the voters supported the candidate of the Lavalas political movement at levels unheard of in “mature democracies”-no runner-up ever topped 16% of the vote. But each time a minority in Haiti, with support from the International Community, successfully limited this mandate. President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the victor in the first and third of those elections, suffered two successful coup d’etats, and spent half of his two terms in exile. President Preval managed to spend his whole term in office and pass power to an elected successor (the first Haitian President to do so), but a manufactured political crisis and perpetual squabbling about the extent of the Lavalas landslides prevented the seating of a legislature. More important, the crisis successfully diverted President Preval’s energies and attention away from the economic and social development policies he was elected to implement.

Haiti’s politics are not parlor games. Each coup d’etat leads to thousands of deaths, and many more times that are killed by diseases that would be prevented or treated by the programs of a less embattled government. The life expectancy for men in Haiti has dropped below 50. It is far past time for the International Community to stop condemning Haiti to repeating this outrageously unjust history.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Preval declared victor in Haiti presidential elections

By Stevenson Jacobs, Associated Press Writer, February 16, 2006, 8:30 AM EST, PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- Rene Preval was declared the winner of Haiti's presidential election Thursday under an agreement between the interim government and electoral council, staving off a crisis over last week's disputed vote in the Western Hemisphere's poorest country.

With nearly all the votes counted, Preval had been just shy of the 50.1 percent margin needed to avoid a runoff next month. Under the agreement, some of the 85,000 blank ballots cast in the Feb. 7 election were subtracted from the total number of votes counted, giving Preval a majority, said Michel Brunache, chief of Cabinet for interim President Boniface Alexandre.

``We acknowledge the final decision of the electoral council and salute the election of Mr. Rene Preval as president of the Republic of Haiti,'' Prime Minister Gerard Latortue told The Associated Press by telephone after the agreement was made.

Haitians celebrated in the street Thursday as word of Preval's win spread.

``I'm so happy because we have what we were looking for,'' said Elvia Pressoir, 36, who clutched Preval campaign leaflets while waiting outside Preval's sister's house for him to appear. ``With Preval, we'll have security, jobs and life will get back to normal.''

The agreement, which Brunache said was signed by members of the electoral council and several government ministers, came during a late Wednesday night meeting of government and election officials in the electoral council offices.

The blank votes represented 4 percent of the estimated 2.2 million ballots cast. By removing some of the blank ballots from the total count, Preval's share of the vote rose from 49.76 percent to 51.15 percent, Brunache said.

``We have reached a solution to the problem,'' Provisional Electoral Council president Max Mathurin said. ``We feel a huge satisfaction at having liberated the country from a truly difficult situation.''

The agreement capped a dramatic nine days since Haitians turned out in droves for an election seen as crucial to avoiding a political and economic meltdown in the destitute Caribbean nation. Gangs have gone on kidnapping sprees and factories have closed for lack of security in the two years since former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide's ouster.

Some 7,300 U.N. troops and 1,750 international police are in the country under Brazilian command, helping to maintain order.

Voters almost overwhelmed poll workers by their numbers on election day. When returns were slow in coming, suspicion built that the vote count was being rigged.

At least one Preval supporter died in massive street protests against alleged fraud, though the demonstrations mostly were peaceful. Preval, a 63-year-old former president, had vowed to challenge the results if officials insisted on holding a March runoff.

On Tuesday, Haitian TV reported the discovery of ballots discarded in a garbage dump near the capital. AP reporters visited the site Wednesday and saw thousands of ballots, some marked for Preval, deep in the dump along with a vote tally sheet and four bags meant to carry returns from the election.

The discovery troubled U.N. officials because the bags were not supposed to be thrown out. U.N. official Catherine Sung, an electoral adviser at the vote tabulation center, told the AP the signed bags were meant to contain annulled and blank votes.

Later Wednesday, the U.N. mission in Haiti issued a statement urging ``the Haitian authorities to investigate fully and prosecute anyone found guilty of this apparent grave breach of the electoral process.''

Another 125,000 ballots also were declared invalid because of irregularities, further fueling suspicions of fraud.

Preval, the son of a former government official, has vowed to crack down on hardened criminals blamed for spreading terror in the capital, Port-au-Prince. The shy, soft-spoken candidate has been coy, though, on whether he would welcome back his one-time ally Aristide, who is in exile in South Africa.

The election was billed as a move to restore democracy in the nation of 8 million, but it is a daunting task. With decades of brain drain, capital flight and crippling judicial, security, health and corruption problems, Haiti needs more than a quick electoral fix, experts say.

Once the richest colony in the Americas, Haiti has been impoverished since the world's only successful slave rebellion forced out French colonizers and a series of corrupt military and civilian dictators began ruling the country in 1804.

The country was ruled for nearly 30 years by dictators Francois ``Papa Doc'' Duvalier and his son Jean-Claude ``Baby Doc'' Duvalier, who fled to France in 1986 amid allegations of human rights violations, mass killings and stealing millions from the national treasury.

Today, most Haitians are unemployed or get by on odd jobs. The majority live in the deforested countryside with no electricity, clean drinking water or health care.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

U.N. police sent to recover voting bags, ballots amid claims of fraud

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, 8:39 p.m. ET Feb. 15, 2006 -- U.N. police rushed Wednesday to recover official voting bags, marked ballots and other election materials found in a garbage dump. Supporters of presidential candidate Rene Preval marched through the capital, claiming fraud.

Associated Press journalists saw thousands of ballots, some marked for Preval, deep in the dump along with a vote tally sheet and four bags meant to carry returns from the Feb. 7 elections.

With 90 percent of the returns counted, Preval was just short of the majority needed for a first-round victory. He claimed Tuesday that “massive fraud or gross errors” had been committed and vowed to challenge the results if officials insist on holding a March runoff.

Local TV Tuesday night showed the discarded ballots at the dump. AP journalists who went to the fly-infested site Wednesday morning found the voting bags among the thousands of ballots, some marked, some blank. Three of the bags were signed by presidents of local election bureaus.

The discovery troubled U.N. officials because the bags were not supposed to be thrown out.

“They’re supposed to be kept,” U.N. official Catherine Sung, an electoral adviser who works at the main vote tabulation center, told the AP.

Wrong bags discarded
Shown photographs of the signed bags, Sung said they were meant to contain annulled and blank votes. The journalists also saw a green tally sheet of votes, but U.N. officials said that was not important because it was a copy of the original given to political party representatives.

Preval backers — who have held massive demonstrations, erected barricades and stormed into a luxury hotel this week to protest alleged fraud — said election officials were attempting to annul votes for him to force a runoff.

If some of the annulled ballots and the corresponding bags have been discarded, it could skew any possible recount. Asked if it was important the bags be retained and not thrown out, Sung said: “Yes, of course.”

U.N. spokesman David Wimhurst said Tuesday night after the TV news images of the dumped ballots were shown that someone may have dumped the ransacked ballots to create an appearance of fraud.

When told by the AP Wednesday morning of the discovery of the bags and of a tally sheet at the site, he said: “That’s extraordinary.” U.N. police were dispatched to retrieve what they could.

Election materials removed
Hundreds of people have been carrying away the election materials, some to brandish at street protests. The reeking dump is located more than two miles down a pitted dirt road from a paved highway. The election materials were strewn over at least two acres deep in the smoldering dump.

Jean-Ricot Guerrier, who lives near the site, said the election material was dumped by a truck the day after the election and that someone tried to burn the material before rainfall put out the fire. Impoverished children picking through the garbage found the ballots, he said.

“We’ve been trying to call the media about this for days, but no one came until yesterday,” he said.

At the dump, Cilius Apolon, 33, walked over the discarded ballots and past smashed white plastic ballot boxes, and expressed disgust.

“I got up very early in the morning to vote last week,” Apolon said. “This shows disrespect for the Haitian people.”

The interim government said an investigation has been launched.

“We are looking closely at specimens of the ballots found at the dump, to check whether these are real ballots,” said Michel Brunache, chief of staff to interim President Boniface Alexandre.

Meanwhile, foreign envoys were discussing a Brazilian plan to persuade the other candidates to recognize Preval’s victory and thus prevent a mass uprising, according to Marco Aurelio Garcia, foreign affairs adviser to Brazil’s president.

International forces keeping peace
Some 7,300 U.N. troops and 1,750 international police are in the country under Brazilian command, helping maintain order. The U.N. mission replaced a U.S.-led force that arrived after an uprising toppled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in February 2004.

A popularly elected government with a clear mandate is seen as crucial to avoiding a political and economic meltdown in the Western Hemisphere’s poorest nation. Gangs have gone on kidnapping sprees and factories have closed for lack of security.

Preval urged his followers Tuesday to continue protesting nonviolently. Scattered demonstrations occurred Wednesday in Port-au-Prince, with protesters waving Haitian flags and Preval posters.

Haiti’s interim government ordered the count suspended with 90 percent of the votes tallied, pending a review of vote tally sheets by an investigative commission. But Max Mathurin, the electoral council president, said Wednesday that election workers were ignoring the government order and continuing to tabulate results.

“The government and the established commission can’t under any circumstances ask or order the cancellation of the operations,” Mathurin told Radio Metropole. Workers have completed 92 percent of the vote count, he added, while refusing to release any more information. “When everything is ready, we’re going to publish the official results,” he said.

Mathurin denied that the electoral council had manipulated the vote count. “We’re working transparently. If Preval has 50 percent plus one vote, he will be the president. If that’s not the case, there will be a second round.”

The electoral council’s latest published results show Preval — a former president and agronomist — having 48.76 percent of the vote with 90 percent of ballots counted. In second place was Leslie Manigat, also a former president, with 11.8 percent.

In Haiti, dozens of ballot boxes found at landfill

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, South Florida Sun-Sentinel - Haiti's troubled elections were dealt another blow Wednesday with the discovery of dozens of ballot boxes and polling materials scattered across a landfill just outside the capital city.

The discovery seemed to back charges by front-runner Rene Preval that fraud and "gross errors" plagued the Feb. 7 presidential contest, though it was impossible to tell just how many votes for Preval ended up in the garbage.

"Just look at this - this is what the rich of this country think of our votes," said Renel Duqueres, a landfill worker who said he began noticing the ballot boxes being dumped last week. "They just kept coming and coming, and we burned a lot of them. But then it just became too much."

As pigs and goats rooted through huge mounds of smoldering garbage covering dozens of acres, Haitians from nearby villages waved discarded ballots Wednesday that showed Preval's box checked as an apparent vote. But some ballots showed markings for other candidates; others had no marks at all.

"This is really quite disturbing, and it looks like it's going to mess up things quite a bit," said David Wimhurst, spokesman for the United Nations, which has backed this country's interim government with a 9,000-man military force since a 2004 rebellion ousted former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

With 90 percent of ballots counted in the presidential race, Preval leads with 48.7 percent of the vote, followed by former President Leslie Manigat with 11.8 percent. Preval needs a simple majority to avoid a runoff, and he contends that the vote was sabotaged to shrink his lead.

Michel Brunache, chief of staff for President Boniface Alexandre, said on Haitian radio Wednesday that the interim government is forming a commission with election officials and Preval's aides to review allegations of vote fraud.

But no authority could say when the commission would meet or how long its investigation would last. Behind the scenes, U.N. diplomats continued to huddle with Haitian leaders and ambassadors from the United States and other countries to find a way out of the mess. Brazil, whose military leads the U.N. peacekeeping force in Haiti, was pushing a plan to declare Preval the winner in an effort to avoid another nationwide rebellion.

Meanwhile, the United Nations and Haiti's election council hurled charges back and forth over who had custody of the ballots.

"We were in charge of security for the votes, and we did our job. The votes under our control were handed over" to the Haitian Provisional Electoral Council, said Wimhurst. Both Wimhurst and Brunache said that the ballots in the landfill could have come from nine polling places that were ransacked on Election Day. Or, they said, they could be blank ballots dumped in an effort to sabotage the elections by discrediting them in the eyes of the Haitian public. All ballots and election materials, including unmarked ballots, were to be sealed and taken to the election tabulation center.

Among the materials discovered at the landfill by the South Florida Sun-Sentinel was a Senate tally sheet for a polling place in Carrefour, a Port-au-Prince suburb where no irregularities were reported. It was one of several tally sheets found by reporters Wednesday.

One of the names on the tally sheet was that of Jean-Herlin Beaublanc, who was an election observer for Preval's party at the polling place. "Yes, that's the tally sheet, but I don't have any idea what happened to the votes," Beaublanc said. "The whole place was a mess. It opened up five hours late, and they kicked us out in the afternoon because it was so disorganized. I didn't see what they did with the votes."

One way out of the growing crisis may be to discard so-called blank ballots - which under Haitian law must be included in the total votes cast - that were tabulated during the past week, an idea being floated by some diplomats.

Eliminating the blank ballots would reduce the total number of ballots counted, giving each candidate a larger share of the votes. If all the blanks are discarded, then Preval would win with about 51 percent of the vote, one diplomat said.

A large proportion of votes, about 4.7 percent, were blank, showing no choice for president among the 33 candidates. Though some Caribbean and Latin American countries have a tradition of submitting blank ballots as protest votes, "this was a pretty high number, and it does look suspicious on its face," said an international diplomat closely involved with the elections process. "It's hard to believe that people woke up at 3 a.m., walked five miles and stood in lines for hours to submit blank ballots.

"What we think happened is that at some polling stations the workers just tossed in unused ballots with everything else, and they got counted," said the diplomat, who didn't want his name used because of the sensitivity of the situation. "That's going to be one of the negotiating points, like everything else here," he said. "Who knows how long this could last. Nothing is ever simple in Haiti, especially at election time."

U.N. Guards Dump Where Vote Boxes Found

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Feb. 15, 2006 (AP) U.N. officials sent troops to a garbage dump near the Haitian capital to collect hundreds of smashed ballot boxes and vote count material on Wednesday, more than a week after Haiti's disputed presidential elections.

Associated Press journalists saw hundreds of empty ballot boxes, at least one vote tally sheet and several empty bags, numbered and signed by the heads of polling stations, strewn across the fly infested dump five miles north of the capital.

"That's extraordinary," said U.N. spokesman David Wimhurst.

Leading candidate Rene Preval has alleged that the Feb. 7 vote was marred by "massive fraud or gross errors" designed to leave him just short of the majority needed for a first-round presidential victory.

A wave of chaotic protests by Preval supporters sent foreign diplomats scrambling for peaceful solutions.

Ambassadors from countries "directly involved in the crisis" were discussing a Brazilian plan to persuade the other candidates to recognize Preval's victory and thus prevent a mass uprising, according to Marco Aurelio Garcia, foreign affairs adviser to Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

In New York, the U.N. Security Council urged Haitians to respect election results and refrain from violence, and it extended the Brazilian-led U.N. peacekeeping mission in Haiti for six months, until Aug. 15.

Haiti's interim government had ordered the count suspended with 90 percent of the votes tallied, pending a review of vote tally sheets by an investigative commission representing the president's office, the electoral council and Preval's party.

"We are looking closely at specimens of the ballots found at the dump, to check whether these are real ballots," said Michel Brunache, chief of staff of interim President Boniface Alexandre. He said the ballots were being examined by the judiciary, because the investigating commission had not yet been formed.

But Max Mathurin, the electoral council president, said Wednesday that election workers are ignoring the government order and continuing to tabulate results.

"The government and the established commission can't under any circumstances ask or order the cancellation of the operations," Mathurin told Radio Metropole. Workers have completed 92 percent of the vote count, he added, while refusing to release any more information. "When everything is ready, we're going to publish the official results," he said.

Mathurin also denied that the electoral had manipulated the vote count. "We're working transparently _ If Preval has 50 percent plus one vote, he will be the president. If that's not the case, there will be a second round."

Of the 2.2 million ballots cast, about 125,000 ballots have been declared invalid because of irregularities, raising suspicions among Preval supporters. Another 4 percent were blank but were still added into the total, making it harder for Preval to obtain a majority.

The electoral council's latest published results show Preval _ a former president and agronomist _ having 48.76 percent of the vote with 90 percent of ballots counted. A former protege of ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide who likewise enjoys wide support among Haiti's poor majority, Preval has urged his supporters to continue protesting nonviolently.

Preval also has vowed to formally challenge the results if officials insist on holding a March runoff. Haiti's constitution indicates that a challenge would go to the Supreme Court, but the interim government recently decreed that any complaints should go to the electoral commission _ the same body accused of manipulating the results.

Late Tuesday, the local Telemax TV news broadcast images from the dump north of the capital showing smashed white ballot boxes with wads of ballots strewn about. Ballot after ballot was marked for Preval.

Among the bags seen by AP was one vote tally sheet from the Port-au-Prince neighborhood of Carrefour that recorded 129 votes for Preval out of 202 cast.

A man picking through the dump, Jean-Ricot Guerrier, said the material was dumped by a truck the day after the election, and that someone had tried to burn the material before rainfall put out the fire.

Wimhurst said the ballots could have come from any of nine polling stations across the country that were ransacked on election day, forcing officials to throw out up to 35,000 votes. At least one voting center was destroyed by people tired of waiting in line and others were destroyed by political factions, he said.

Both Wimhurst and Mathurin raised the possibility that someone dumped the ransacked ballots to create an appearance of fraud, and Mathurin said U.N. troops would be responsible for any unprotected ballots. U.N. provided security for the vote and helped ship election returns to the capital, but is not directly involved in counting ballots.

A runoff election would pit Preval against second-place finisher Leslie Manigat, also a former president, who received 11.8 percent with 90 percent of the vote counted. Manigat's wife, Myrlande Manigat, declined to say whether anyone had approached him about withdrawing.

Haiti's Preval claims vote fraud, burnt ballots found

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Wed Feb 15, 2006 4:08 AM GMT (Reuters) - Former Haitian President Rene Preval said on Tuesday massive fraud had prevented him from winning a first-round victory in last week's election but the government had agreed to delay publishing the result while he gathered proof.

A few hours after he spoke, hundreds and possibly thousands of burnt and still smoldering ballots, many cast a week ago for Preval, were found on a Port-au-Prince garbage dump, outraging Preval supporters and setting off demonstrations after nightfall.

A one-time ally of ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and opposed by the wealthy elite who drove Aristide out two years ago. Preval called earlier for his supporters to continue their protests but to tear down barricades of smoking tires and rubble that had brought Port-au-Prince to a standstill.

"We are sure of having won in the first round," Preval said at his sister's hilltop home on the outskirts of the Haitian capital, where his angry supporters thronged through the streets on Monday, storming the city's top luxury hotel.

"We are convinced there was massive fraud and gross errors that affected the process," he said in his first major comments since last Tuesday's vote.

The impoverished Caribbean nation of 8.5 million has been on tenterhooks for a week amid concern that election officials were manipulating the ballot, the first since Aristide fled into exile, to force Preval into a March 19 runoff.

Results, unchanged since Monday, gave Preval 48.7 percent of the vote with 90 percent counted. He needs a simple majority to avoid a second round.

"If they publish these results as they are, we will contest them and if Lespwa (Preval's political movement) contests them, the Haitian people will contest them," Preval said.

Members of the provisional electoral council said the demonstrations and roadblocks that have afflicted Port-au-Prince since Sunday had prevented ballot workers from completing the count anyway.

Rosemond Pradel, secretary general of the council, promised an investigation after charred ballot papers were found in a large state dump in the capital.

"That's absolutely unacceptable," said Pradel.

He said securing the ballots after they had been cast was the responsibility of the 9,000-strong U.N. force trying to keep the peace in Haiti.

U.N. spokesman David Wimhurst said ballots were supposed to have been sealed in bags and placed in a container, protected by U.N. troops. "It's not normal to have these ballots there."

Wimhurst suggested the discarded ballots could have come from nine polling stations outside Port-au-Prince ransacked during the election, with the loss of around 35,000 votes.

In the district of Truitier, where the burnt ballots were found, angry Preval supporters and local residents denounced what they saw as an attempt to deny them a voice in Haiti's fractious and fragile democracy.

"They took all Preval's ballots. They threw them away in order to prevent the vote of the people from passing. That is a crime," said Rene Monplaisir, an official in the Preval campaign.

While many of Preval's presidential rivals have conceded he won an easy victory, some, including third-placed industrialist Charles Baker, considered the candidate of the wealthy elite, have vowed to join forces in a second round.

Ex-President Leslie Manigat was in second place with 11.8 percent and Baker was third with 7.9 percent.

Preval said his campaign had credible evidence the vote count had been manipulated. He cited an independent tabulation by the National Democratic Institute, a U.S. nonprofit group, which showed he had carried 54 percent of the vote.

Mr Preval's error and stabilising Haiti

Wednesday, February 15, 2006, Jamaica Observer. The latest developments in Haiti provide a bittersweet experience for us. For we were heartened by the voter turnout last week in our sister Caribbean country as Haitians flocked to the polls to exercise their constitutional right to elect a president. Now, however, we have cause for concern as the electoral council appears to be marking time with the election results and Mr Rene Preval has, in our judgement, erred in asking his supporters to protest peacefully against what he says is "massive fraud or gross errors" in the process.

Let us make it very clear that we believe in, and support Mr Preval's right to request an investigation into the electoral process once he believes that there have been irregularities.

We would support, too, his call for peaceful protest if Haiti was a stable society. But the reality is that it is not. For even before Mr Preval spoke yesterday, his supporters, suspecting some form of chicanery in the counting of the votes, started protesting on Sunday and on Monday erected and set fire to roadblocks in Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital.

Their fear was that an attempt was being made to prevent Mr Preval, the former protégé of ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, from getting the 50 per cent plus one vote he needs to win the presidency and avoid a March runoff against second-place finisher Mr Leslie Manigat.

Not surprisingly, in such a charged atmosphere, shots were fired and at least one protester was killed. Mr Preval, therefore, ran the risk of inflaming passions, despite his pacifist posture. Because people who have been denied their democratic rights for as long as the Haitian people, are hardly likely to remain calm if they perceive that efforts are being made to undermine their franchise.

If the reports coming out of Haiti are accurate, Mr Preval needs to appeal to his supporters to allow election workers free passage to the election centres in order that they may complete the vote count quickly, before the country descends deeper into chaos.

But it seems to us that the electoral council also owes the Haitian people an explanation as to what caused the delay in the final results beyond last weekend's expected release.

The bottom line is that the country needs to settle down and set about the business of improving the quality of life of its citizens. That, we accept, will not be easy, but Haiti's Caricom neighbours and the international community, we believe, are willing to assist.