News from Haiti

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

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.