Haiti's Preval Claims Fraud Spoiled His Win

Supporters of the leading Haitian candidate, Rene Preval, shout his name in Port-au-Prince.
Supporters of the leading Haitian candidate, Rene Preval, shout his name in Port-au-Prince. (By Andres Leighton -- Associated Press)
By Manuel Roig-Franzia
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, February 15, 2006

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Feb. 14 -- Haiti's fractured electoral process, already disrupted by street protests Monday, stalled further on Tuesday as the leading presidential candidate, Rene Preval, said "gigantic fraud" had kept him from a first-round victory and official vote-counters refused to report for work because they feared attacks by protesters.

Preval's return to the capital after nearly a week at his remote mountain home had a soothing effect on demonstrators, who responded to his plea for calm Tuesday by taking down most of the fiery roadblocks they had set up since early morning. But the lull appeared to be only temporary as the country anxiously awaited final results a full week after the Feb. 7 election.

"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," Preval said, addressing reporters as he sat on a striped couch beneath a flame tree in the back yard of his sister's gated home in suburban Pegguyville.

Preval, a former president and agronomist who is popular with Haiti's poor, railed about "gross errors" in vote counting, but he declined to discuss specifics or present evidence to support his claims.

With about 90 percent of ballots counted, officials said Preval had won 48.6 percent of the vote. That total is short of the simple majority required to avert a runoff with Leslie Manigat, another former president, who won 11 percent of the vote.

Liszt Quitel, an adviser to Preval, said the campaign had been told that the remaining ballots are missing. "People on the inside are saying they don't know where they are," Quitel said.

David Winhurst, a spokesman for the United Nations, said that "we have no evidence of fraud." The United Nations supplied 9,000 troops to safeguard the election.

Preval asked demonstrators to allow truck drivers to take food to markets and students to get to school. But he also encouraged his supporters to continue demonstrating to show their displeasure with the vote counting.

"Continue to protest, but respect the rights of others," he said at the news conference, which was broadcast live on national radio stations.

The capital, brought to a standstill by Monday's violent protests and left with eerily empty streets that night, lurched back to life Tuesday after Preval's remarks. In Pegguyville, the calls of street hawkers filled the market air and women balancing bowls of grapefruit on their heads navigated the steep streets.

Parades of Preval supporters -- the same groups who burned tires and erected roadblocks the day before -- turned celebratory and hopeful. They marched through the streets, banging drums and waving posters with the emblem of Preval's party, Lespwa (the Haitian Creole word for "hope").

Preval supporters were furious late Tuesday, and said their fraud allegations had been proved when a local television station in Port-au-Prince repeatedly broadcast footage of ballots with Preval's name checked that were found discarded and, in some cases, partially burned at a dump in Port-au-Prince and two other locations.

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