Officials sorted through fraudulent ballots and scrambled for compromises to head off the threat of social unrest as Haiti prepared for the expected release yesterday of results from its dysfunctional presidential election.
Already wracked by a cholera epidemic and still recovering from the Jan. 12 earthquake, the country is now being tested by accusations of fraud in the Nov. 28 vote and disputes over anticipated results.
Rock-throwing clashes with police have been a near-daily occurrence, while furious closed-door discussions take place within the provisional electoral council, or CEP. The results were expected anytime yesterday.
If a candidate comes away with more than 50 percent of the vote, he or she will be president. The top two candidates are otherwise supposed to go on to a Jan. 16 run-off, but electoral officials on Monday were considering allowing at least a third candidate into the final round if the vote is close.
“If it’s a question of a few hundred [votes], it’s up to the CEP,” Organization of American States-Caribbean Community chief -observer Colin Granderson said.
The 19-candidate ballot has effectively narrowed to three leading contenders: law professor and former first lady Mirlande Manigat, popular carnival singer Michel Martelly and state-run construction company executive Jude Celestin.
Celestin is the preferred successor of the lame-duck and increasingly unpopular Haitian President Rene Preval, who cannot seek re-election under the Constitution.
The political unknown’s campaign was the best-funded of the bunch, but Preval’s inability to jump-start a moribund economy or push forward reconstruction after the massive earthquake drained support for the candidate seen as his “twin.”
Martelly’s supporters took to the streets of Port-au-Prince by the thousands while polls were still open to back their candidate.
Others, primarily Manigat supporters, staged increasingly violent demonstrations last week in the towns of St Marc and Gonaives.
Problems including widespread disorganization and outright fraud that disenfranchised thousands of voters led several candidates to call for cancellation of the vote. A much-touted hotline citizens could call to locate their polling places failed and reporters saw instances of blatant ballot-box stuffing and marked ballots being thrown into the street.
On Friday, the eight--member provisional electoral council apologized to candidates for the problems.
Now, vote-counters under UN peacekeepers’ guard at a Port-au-Prince warehouse are working on a new problem — separating clearly fraudulent tally sheets and eliminating them from being included in the final vote count.