Solidarity among Haiti opposition candidates begins to unravel

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By Jacqueline Charles and Trenton Daniel
McClatchy Newspapers

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (MCT) — The show of solidarity among opposition candidates who denounced Sunday’s presidential and legislative elections in Haiti began to unravel on Monday, underscoring the chaos that has mired the vote.

The group of 12 presidential candidates that alleged "massive fraud" and called for the elections to be voided shrunk to 10 after musician Michel "Sweet Micky" Martelly and former first lady Mirlande Manigat decided that they were likely headed to a runoff. Martelly and Manigat now say that all votes should be counted.

Meanwhile, Haiti-born hip hop artist Wyclef Jean called for an independent investigation into the allegations and monitoring of the vote count, saying he feared violence could erupt in the next 24 hours.

"The population is stating they are tired. They are tired of the old regime and they are not going to let the system steal their vote,’ Jean said. "I do not want this country to go up in flames."

On Monday, Haitians continued protest in several cities, including Port-au-Prince, Gonaives, St. Marc and Jacmel. Rocks and bottles were thrown, as was tear gas to disperse crowds, and police attempted to put out burning tires serving as flaming barricades.

"The people want change, they are tired of dying of hunger," said Martelly, speaking at a Petionville hotel an hour after Jean. "They have made their choice. The Provisional Electoral Council, respect the choice of the population."

On Sunday, Martelly sided with 11 other candidates in calling for the vote to be canceled and a transitional government to be put in place to organize new elections.

Manigat said she was not changing her position but taking a wait-and-see attitude.

"There are rumors in the streets that I will be in a runoff with either Jude Celestin or Martelly," Manigat told The Miami Herald in an interview at her home.

The first to call for a cancellation of the vote, Manigat said she only appeared on the podium in a show of solidarity against what she now calls an "operation" aimed at either stealing the elections or destroying them.

"Those people hate me," she said of the group of 12. "They would coalesce against me."

But she said even as radio reports indicate that she and Martelly were the top two vote getters at some of the 11,181 polling sites, she doesn’t yet have any concrete evidence to "change my opinion."

Both Manigat and Martelly’s move immediately triggered criticism from opponents who felt they had been duped into joining Martelly amid allegations that supporters of President Rene Preval were trying to steal the vote in favor of his hand-picked successor, Celestin.

"These people are flip-flopping back and forth," presidential candidate Charles-Henri Baker said of Martelly and Manigat. "It either has a lot of fraud in it or it doesn’t. A lot of people were not able to vote and we asked for the elections to be annulled and today you are saying something else? You’ve just lost credibility."

Baker and the nine other remaining opposition candidates held firm to their position Monday that there was "massive fraud" and the elections should be voided. Joining them were also a number of legislative candidates from the opposition.

Baker said his lawyers have provided documented proof of fraud at a handful of voting centers in the capital and he’s gathering more evidence from his 15,000 monitors.

In one case, he said, a lawyer for his Respe political party had a man arrested at a polling site after he was seen stuffing ballots in favor of Celestin.

"The guy is still in jail. We had people who could not vote, people blocked from voting and monitors who couldn’t get in," Baker said. "This is what we saw in all 10 departments. If the Haitian people do not go out in the streets, I’d be wrong."

About 1,500 protesters gathered in St. Marc, while in Gonaives, hundreds gathered to protest the electoral commission’s decision to move ahead with election results despite the fraud allegations. Led by Sen. Youri Latortue, a powerful lawmaker who is supporting Manigat, the protesters marched through the city’s dusty streets.

"We voted without incident yesterday and look what’s happening," said Charline Wilson, 26. "We want Mirlande Manigat. We’re voting for an alternative."

As protesters walked through the streets, some snatched tires and set them aflame at major intersections. Young men threw rocks — a few hurling them over the United Nations base.

Latortue told The Herald he believes the fraud was widespread and denied allegations that he also orchestrated fraud at polling stations in the city to help Manigat.

"The (electoral commission) showed bad organization when a citizen couldn’t find a place to vote," he said.

The US and others continued to appeal for calm and dialogue.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., expected to become chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee, said Congress is likely to "allow the Haitian electoral constitutional process to run its course."

The Organization of American States acknowledged problems with the vote but stopped short of calling for the elections to be invalidated. Officials said candidates should work with the electoral commission.

Albert Ramdin, the OAS assistant secretary general, said Haiti could not afford a violent meltdown.

"It’s a very bad signal to the international community who is willing to help and not just from the opposition, but from the candidates of the ruling party," he said.

(Herald staff writer Lesley Clark contributed to this report from Washington, D.C.)

(c) 2010, The Miami Herald.
Visit The Miami Herald Web edition on the World Wide Web at
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Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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