Sunday, November 28, 2010

Haitians Flood the Streets as Several Candidates Reject Election

The Christian Science Monitor -

Angry voters flood streets as several candidates reject Haiti election

Twelve of the 19 presidential candidates held a Sunday afternoon press conference calling for the Haiti election to be canceled. They accused the Inite party, backed by President Rene Preval, of 'massive fraud.'

Haitians walked over ballots on the floor after frustrated voters destroyed electoral materials during a protest at a voting center in Port-au-Prince, Sunday. Twelve out of Haiti's 19 presidential candidates denounced 'massive fraud' in Haiti elections and demanded the vote be canceled.

By Ezra Fieser, Correspondent
posted November 28, 2010 at 5:27 pm EST

Port-au-Prince, Haiti — Frustrated voters flooded the streets and several presidential candidates called for the government to annul Sunday’s Haiti election due to problems at polls throughout the country.

Hundreds of voters said they were prohibited from voting because their names did not appear on rolls at the polling places. Angry voters threw rocks and bottles at United Nations peacekeeping forces and shut down polling places.

Twelve of the 19 presidential candidates held an afternoon press conference calling for the vote to be canceled. They accused the Inite party, backed by President Rene Preval, of "massive fraud."

As polls closed at 4 p.m. peaceful demonstrations clogged the streets of Petionville, a neighborhood in the hills above downtown Port-au-Prince.

“We are not going to stand for an election that is not the will of the people,” says Abner Jean, who could not vote despite holding a valid registration card. His name did not appear on rolls. “If they put in a candidate that we did not choose, we’ll use whatever means necessary to kick them out.”

Confusion throughout the country

Observers said problems were reported throughout the country. Many voters who’d been displaced by the earthquake did not know where to vote, resulting in frustration and confusion.

The electoral commission held a press conference urging calm and reassuring the public that the vote was on track.

Representatives for the commission, CEP, said voters tried to use out-of-date cards or were going to the wrong polling places. They urged voters to call a toll-free number or go to the commission’s Web site to find their polling place.

“There are places where bandits shut down polls, shots were fired, and stones were thrown,” said Pierre Opont, director general of the CEP. “But it is only a small percentage of the polling areas and it won’t stop us from voting and getting a valid result.”

Haitians flood the streets

By that time, however, Haitians had already taken to Port-au-Prince streets. They rushed to the candidates’ press conference.

Michel Martelly, a popular musician considered one of the leading candidates in a field of 19, said the meeting was held "to denounce today's massive fraud all over the country."

Rapper Wyclef Jean appeared moments later with Martelly, who is known as “Sweet Mickey.” The crowd that formed erupted as Jean hugged Martelly.

Song broke out with lyrics like “Oh Mickey, now we’ve been delivered,” and “They gave us cholera, they call it poison,” a reference to the cholera epidemic that has killed more than 1,600 and continues to spread.

Nearby, blue helmeted UN soldiers and Haitian police in riot gear lined street sides.

The crowd followed Martelly and Jean, who were joined by Charles Henry Baker, a white-haired businessman who also complained that the vote was unfair.

It was a raucous end to a voting day that began quietly with teenagers playing soccer on traffic-free streets, using earthquake rubble as goal markers as women and children filtered to church.

Tensions grew as the day unfolded and more people complained they’d been prohibited from voting.

Laurent Yvone, who lives in a camp for people displaced by January’s earthquake, lined up with thousands of early this morning. The polling place for the camp, known as Camp Corail, had just 39 registered names, however.

“There are more than 5,000 people here and the [Interim Electoral Commission] sent us less than 40 names. We don’t have enough ballots,” says the polling place’s supervisor, Elizer Fritznel.

Mr. Fritznel fled before the polls were supposed to close at 4 p.m. Only a handful of voters cast ballots there.

“If we can’t vote, these ballots are not going to leave here,” Mr. Yvone said. “This is corruption.”

Haitian presidential candidates allege election fraud News Staff

A dozen Haitian presidential candidates have alleged that the country's election is rife with fraud, only a few hours after polls opened across the country.

During a hastily arranged press conference Sunday afternoon, 12 presidential candidates said that the election should be cancelled, despite an urgent desire for change in the country, CTV's Lisa LaFlamme reported from Haiti.

They claim that the election committee is working with outgoing President Rene Preval to ensure that his chosen candidate, Jude Celestin, wins the vote.

Ninety-six candidates are vying for 11 seats in the Senate, while more than 800 candidates are battling it out for the 99 seats in the lower house. But it is the contentious presidential contest that has garnered all the headlines.

Nineteen candidates are vying for Haiti's top job and the chance to oversee billions of dollars in earthquake recovery aid from the international community that is still expected to make its way into the country.

Celestin, considered a leading candidate from Preval's Unity party, had a well-funded campaign but is not well known to Haitian voters. Celestin is the head of a state-run construction company whose trucks carried many of the victims of the Jan. 12 earthquake to mass graves.

Celestin's campaign sent out a text message to Haitian voters Saturday with the candidate's main message: "Let's assure stability."

But Celestin faces formidable foes in 70-year-old former first lady Mirlande Manigat and popular musician Michel "Sweet Micky" Martelly. His irreverent campaign slogan, "Vote for the bald head!" roused young voters, but Martelly's campaign was marred by violence Friday night when shots rang out near the end of a rally. One person was killed and several others wounded in what his campaign called an assassination attempt.

It is unclear what to expect of voter turnout after supporters of former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide threatened a boycott when his Fanmi Lavalas party was barred from the election over an unclear technicality.

Fourteen other parties have also been disqualified, according to Nicole Phillips, an attorney for the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti.

Another factor that will call into question the legitimacy of Sunday's vote is the fact that hundreds of thousands of voters lost their identification cards in the earthquake and without them cannot register to vote. Long lineups outside the national identification centre late last week left thousands unable to obtain a card and unsure if they would be allowed to cast their ballots.

While many of the earthquake's survivors are desperately trying to ensure they can vote, election officials were forced to admit that thousands of Haiti's 4.7 million registered voters are people who died in the January quake.

Electoral officials say a turnout of less than 40 per cent may not be considered credible.

Election observers from the Organization of American States (OAS) will fan out to about 40 per cent of the country's 1,500 polling stations, in addition to observers from the European Union, the United Nations and various countries, including the United States.

Albert Ramdin, assistant secretary-general of the OAS, said the organization helped deliver 800,000 voter cards over the past few days.

"We're looking at the best elections possible under the circumstances," Ramdin told The Associated Press. "We know that the (voter) list is not complete. We know that the list is inflated. We know that much more needed to be done to be on time in terms of training of polling station workers."

Preliminary results are not expected until December 7 and a close vote could lead to a run-off.

With files from The Associated Press

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