News from Haiti

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Haiti to review election results

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Feb. 14, 2006. 09:21 PM (AP) — Haiti’s interim government has ordered a review of election results amid accusations of electoral fraud, the country’s interior minister said Tuesday.

“The government wants to make sure that everything with the process is correct,” interim interior minister Paul Magloire said.

“We’re going to review the results because we want to make sure what we have is right.” Earlier Tuesday, leading presidential candidate Rene Preval claimed that “gross errors” and likely fraud marred the vote that could see him fall just short of a first-round victory, and he said he would contest the results.

He also urged supporters to protest peacefully, a day after at least one pro-Preval demonstrator was killed and followers elsewhere occupied a hotel.

Local Telemax TV news showed smashed ballot boxes in a garbage dump, with wads of ballots strewn about. Ballot after ballot was marked for Preval.

“We are convinced that either massive fraud or gross errors stain the (electoral) process” Preval said earlier in the day, adding that the official results “do not correspond with reality.”

White United Nations armoured vehicles shoved aside roadblocks of junked cars, old refrigerators and other debris blocking the streets of the capital Tuesday, and most were clear by mid-afternoon. Businesses remained shuttered, but street markets bustled with shoppers.

Preval, a former protege of ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide who enjoys wide support among the poor, called on followers to remove all roadblocks so people can get to work.

The most recent election results, posted Monday, showed Preval had 48.76 per cent of the vote with 90 per cent of ballots counted. He would need 50 per cent plus one vote from the Feb. 7 election to avoid a March run-off.

“If they publish the results as they are now, we will oppose them, the Haitian people will also oppose them, and there will be protests,” Preval told reporters.

The constitution indicates 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 issuing the results.

UN spokesman David Wimhurst said there was no evidence of fraud in the elections. The UN provided security for the vote and helped ship election returns to the capital but is not directly involved in counting ballots.

“If he believes there have been irregularities, he has the right to request an investigation,” Wimhurst told The Associated Press.

An official with the European Union, which has election observers here, declined comment on the vote count.

“The situation is volatile and difficult, and we do not want to make any declaration,” she said on condition of anonymity because she was not an official EU spokesperson. The Canadian observer group also refused to comment.

Election officials have not said when they will release final results. The UN said pro-Preval demonstrations were preventing election personnel from going to work and many counting centres had closed because of security concerns.

“I ask the Haitian people x .x .x . to be mature, to be responsible, to be nonviolent,” Preval said Tuesday.

The UN Security Council urged Haitians to respect election results and refrain from violence, and it extended the UN peacekeeping mission in Haiti for six months, until Aug. 15.

Some 7,300 UN troops and 1,750 international police are in the country under Brazilian command, helping national police maintain order. The UN mission replaced a U.S.-led force that arrived after a three-week uprising toppled Aristide in February 2004.

At least one protester was killed Monday in the Taberre neighbourhood. Witnesses said UN peacekeepers opened fire. Wimhurst first denied that peacekeepers fired any rounds, then later said they had fired in the air and that someone else fired shots afterward in the same area.

Preval, a former president, urged his supporters to “respect people’s belongings” and to be on guard against provocateurs.

He met the top UN official in Haiti and ambassadors from Canada, Brazil, France and the United States late Monday after coming to the capital on a UN helicopter from his rural home in the north.

A run-off would pit Preval against second-place finisher Leslie Manigat, also a former president, who received 11.8 per cent of the vote, according to preliminary results.

Manigat’s wife, Myrlande, declined to say whether anyone had approached her husband about withdrawing. “Our position is to wait until the (electoral council) releases the results,” she said.

Of the 2.2 million ballots cast, about 125,000 have been declared invalid because of irregularities, raising suspicion among Preval supporters that polling officials were rigging the election.

Four per cent of the ballots were blank but were still added to the total, making it harder for Preval to obtain the 50 per cent plus one vote needed.

Jacques Bernard, director general of the nine-member electoral council, has denied that the council voided many votes for Preval.