Quiet tension settles over Haiti in wake of chaotic elections



Desir Frenel waits for his coworkers at a worksite on Monday, November 29, 2010, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Frenel, who removes rubble to support his three children, was unable to vote on Sunday, even though he had a voter card. (Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times/MCT)

By Joe Mozingo
Los Angeles Times

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (MCT) — A quiet tension settled over Haiti on Monday as people waited to learn how electoral officials proceed in handling Sunday’s chaos-marred national elections and the international community hoped the earthquake-ravaged country did not descend yet again into violence.

A leading candidate, the singer Michel "Sweet Micky" Martelly, who joined 11 others the day before in asking for the election to be canceled, suggested he was now open to letting the results be counted while still insisting "massive fraud" was committed. His party said election results posted at each polling station around the nation showed him far ahead of other candidates.

Word was spreading that Martelly and Mirlande Manigat, a professor and former first lady, were the front-runners, despite allegations that President Rene Preval tried to steal the election for his Inite (Unity) party and its candidate, Jude Celestin.

The results for both presidential and parliamentary candidates are now being tabulated in a warehouse in Port-au-Prince, but are not expected to be released until Dec. 7.

International donor countries had pushed Haiti to hold elections despite disarray following the massive January earthquake that has left more than a million people living in tent camps and a growing cholera epidemic killing hundreds and causing panic. The donors hoped the polling would produce a legitimate — and more decisive — government that would expedite the rebuilding process to which they have pledge billions.

Now diplomats hope that as people get wind that Martelly and Manigat, two candidates with clear support on the streets, are leading, they will not stage the type of massive protests and disruptions many feared.

"We think the picture will be clear sooner than Dec. 7," said a U.S. official, requesting anonymity. Numerous officials with observers on the ground said they found little support for Celestin.

A Los Angeles Times reporter visiting several polling places found Martelly in the lead in each one, with Manigat in second place and Celestine far behind. But it was hard not to notice the problems. At a polling place in Petionville where over 2,700 people were registered to vote, 158 cast ballots if the result posted on the wall was to be trusted.

A joint mission by the Organization of American States and the Caribbean Community said the issues were not of a "magnitude or consistency" to skew the results and urged the candidates to tone down their rhetoric.

"The irregularities were not enough, serious as some of them were, to invalidate the process," said Colin Granderson, head of the mission.

Earlier in the day, rap singer Wyclef Jean, a popular figure in Haiti whose candidacy was rejected by the electoral council, called a news conference at an upscale hotel to say the country could "go up in flames" if the international community did not somehow intervene.

"I came here today because I know that in 24 hours, if we do not have a decision, this country will rise to a level of violence we have not seen before," he said, noting that the clear front-runners were Martelly, Manigat and Jean Henry Ceant, and that the others should concede.

Martelly held a news conference an hour later at the same hotel in which he was introduced as the president of Haiti. "The population is ready to scream victory, and they are ready to fight for this change," he said.

Martelly would not say what specifically he wanted the electoral council to do, aside from respecting the will of the people.

UN, US and other foreign officials spent much of the day quietly assessing why many voters Sunday could not find their names on electoral rolls, and some polling centers were ransacked.

Granderson, the head of the OAS mission, said the problems Sunday appeared to be due more to disorganization than malfeasance. Voters did not know where they were supposed to vote. A call center meant to guide them quickly became overwhelmed. Poll workers did not maintain control of the voting space, so the areas were mobbed.

He said there was also some evidence of repeat voting and acts of violence and intimidation.

Martenel Destine, 42, said thugs were all over his polling place in the suburb of Le Plen.

"They tried to pressure me to vote for Jude (Celestin) so I just headed back," he said.

(c) 2010, Los Angeles Times.
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Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.



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