News from Haiti

Friday, February 10, 2006

Candidate alleges fraud as Haiti awaits poll count - Reuters

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Feb 10 (Reuters) - The candidate of Haiti's business elite, trailing in this week's presidential election, alleged polling fraud on Friday as former President Rene Preval appeared headed for an outright victory.

Industrialist Charles Baker, considered a candidate of the wealthy in the impoverished country, said he had asked election officials to investigate whether people were allowed to vote more than once because voter lists were not followed.

"We had a lot of (polling station) volunteers who said they saw people voting five times, seven times, eight times," he said. He was lying third with just six percent of the vote so far. Elections officials said about 15 percent of the votes had been counted.

International observers have said they saw some irregularities at polling stations but have not suggested the results would be tainted by fraud.

A victory for Preval could prove unsettling to the United States, which worked to push his mentor, former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, from power two years ago.

On Friday Washington urged Preval, who maintained a low profile in his mountain hometown of Marmelade in the north, to oppose Aristide's return from exile in South Africa.

Preval inherited Aristide's rabid support in the slums of Port-au-Prince and his possible victory concerned the wealthy elite who helped push Aristide from office.

Preval, who led the poorest nation in the Americas from 1996 to 2001, has not yet claimed victory. But he said on Friday he was not surprised by the results known so far.

"During the campaign I felt the enthusiasm which would translate into a favorable vote for me," he told the Miami Herald and Reuters television in an interview.

Another former president, Leslie Manigat, was running second to Preval with 13.4 percent.

A couple of other notables among the field of 33 presidential candidates trailed badly. Former World Bank official Marc Bazin, who was prime minister in the early 1990s, and Guy Philippe, an ex-police chief who led a revolt in 2004 against Aristide, each had less than 1 percent.

Preval, 63, was president between the two terms of Aristide, a firebrand former Roman Catholic priest accused of despotism and corruption before he was driven out.

Although he has put some distance between himself and his mentor, Preval has said there is nothing to stop Aristide from returning to Haiti from his South African exile.