Haiti begins vote probe as Préval calls for calm

UN aide notes dumped ballots

By Stevenson Jacobs
Associated Press / February 15, 2006

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PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- Haiti's interim government ordered a review of election results yesterday, hours after the leading presidential candidate -- who appeared set to fall short of a first-round victory -- asserted that the count was marred by ''massive fraud" or errors.

''The government wants to make sure that everything with the process is correct," interim Interior Minister Paul Magloire said.

Earlier in the day, leading presidential candidate René Préval promised to contest the results of the Feb. 7 vote. Préval also urged supporters to protest peacefully. On Monday, at least one pro-Préval demonstrator was killed and followers elsewhere occupied a hotel.

Préval said official results ''do not correspond with reality."

''We are convinced that either massive fraud or gross errors stain the process" Préval said.

The review will be conducted jointly by the president's office, the electoral council, and Préval's party, said Michel Brunache, chief of staff of interim President Boniface Alexandre.

Magloire said the commission will be formed in the coming days and that the review of the voter tally sheets ''will be very fast." The electoral council will not release more election results pending the outcome of the review, Brunache said.

Tens of thousands of Préval's backers, most from Haiti's majority poor, have flooded the streets of the capital since Sunday to protest what they called a rigged election.

Local Telemax TV news last night showed smashed white ballot boxes in a garbage dump, with wads of ballots strewn about. Ballot after ballot was marked for Préval.

United Nations spokesman David Wimhurst said the ballots could have come from any of nine polling stations across the country that were ransacked on Election Day, forcing officials to throw out up to 35,000 votes. At least one voting center was destroyed by people tired of waiting in line, he said, while others were destroyed by political factions.

Wimhurst said it was possible someone had dumped the ransacked ballots to create an appearance of fraud.

White UN armored vehicles yesterday shoved aside some roadblocks of junked cars, old refrigerators, and other debris that were laid across the streets of the capital a day earlier. Businesses were shuttered, although street markets bustled with shoppers.

The most recent election results, posted Monday, showed Préval had 48.76 percent of the vote with 90 percent of ballots counted. He would need 50 percent plus one vote to avoid a March runoff.

''If they publish the results as they are now, we will oppose them, the Haitian people will also oppose them, and there will be protests," Préval told reporters.

Wimhurst said there was no evidence of fraud. The UN provided security for the vote and helped ship some election returns to the capital but is not directly involved in counting ballots.

An official with the European Union, which has election observers here, declined to comment on the vote count.

''The situation is volatile and difficult, and we do not want to make any declaration," she said on condition of anonymity because she was not an official EU spokeswoman. The Canadian observer group also refused to comment.

Of the 2.2 million ballots cast, about 125,000 have been declared invalid because of irregularities, raising suspicion among Préval supporters.