News from Haiti

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Haiti vote count stalls, No results posted in 20 hours

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) -- Roadblocks remained up in the capital Tuesday as the nation tensely awaited final results of presidential elections, more than 20 hours after the last results were posted from the balloting.

Front-running candidate Rene Preval flew to Haiti's chaotic capital from his rural home Monday as thousands of his supporters blockaded roads and stormed a luxury hotel, accusing electoral officials of manipulating vote counts to deprive him of a first-round victory.

Preval had just under 49 percent support -- just under the majority needed to give him victory outright and avoid a second round of voting -- with 90 percent of the votes counted. Leslie Manigat, another former president, was second 11.8 percent.

Manigat's wife, Myrlande Manigat, said he was not negotiating and was awaiting final results.

"Our position is to wait until the (electoral council) releases the results," she said.

She wouldn't say if anyone had approached Manigat about withdrawing.

Violence in Port-au-Prince left at least one protester dead Monday as barricades of blazing tires sent plumes of black smoke into the sky.

The February 7 elections were the first since former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was ousted in a rebellion two years ago. Preval, who enjoys wide support among Haiti's poor majority, arrived in the capital late Monday aboard a U.N. helicopter from his rural home in the country's north.

"We have questions about the electoral process," he told reporters after meeting with the top U.N. official in Haiti and ambassadors from the United States, France, Canada and Brazil. "We want to see how we can save the process."

Protesters accused election officials of tampering with the vote count to deny Preval the outright win.

With about 90 percent of the vote counted, Preval was leading with 48.7 percent of the vote, Haiti's electoral council said on its Web site. Of the 2.2 million ballots cast, about 125,000 ballots have been declared invalid because of irregularities, raising suspicion among Preval supporters that polling officials were rigging the election.

Another 4 percent of the ballots were blank but were still added into the total, making it harder for Preval to obtain the 50 percent plus one vote needed.

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

Valdes said he didn't believe there was fraud.

"I'm fully confident the process was correct. Of course, there might be mistakes, and these mistakes have to be examined," he said.