Monitors say Haiti vote fraud not massive

Nearly all the major candidates in Haiti's presidential election called for Sunday's election to be voided amid allegations of fraud and reports that large numbers of voters were turned away from polling stations.
By Nick Miroff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 29, 2010; 7:41 PM

PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI - The streets of Haiti's capital were mostly quiet Monday, as the international observers who monitored Sunday's tumultuous elections called for the vote-counting to continue and results to be respected, saying they had witnessed irregularities but not the "massive fraud" alleged by most of the country's presidential candidates.

Those findings challenged a statement made Sunday - before the voting had even concluded - by 12 of the 19 presidential candidates that called for the election to be invalidated. They said the government of outgoing President Rene Preval had rigged the process to install his protege, Jude Celestin.

Ambassador Colin Granderson, the head of a joint monitoring team from the Organization of American States and the Caribbean Community, said Monday that the candidates' statement was "precipitous, hasty and regrettable."

Granderson said the international group, which had 120 observers stationed around the country, reported multiple problems at the polls, but they weren't extensive enough to warrant a complete annulment of the vote.

"We're aware of the perceptions that things went badly, but we've looked very carefully at what took place in voting centers and tried to be as objective as we could," he said. Granderson added that his teams found the voting process disrupted at only 4 percent of the polling stations.

Jon Piechowski, a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Haiti, urged the country's political parties to remain calm.

"It's important to underscore that the assessment given by Ambassador Granderson is part of a process," he said. "We are consulting with our partners in the international community to better understand the details of what the observers saw."

The observer findings set up a new potential conflict pitting Haiti's unpredictable political personalities against international groups trying to help the shattered nation establish a legitimate government capable of managing billions in still-undelivered reconstruction funds.

Haiti's Provisional Electoral Council, which organized the election with $14 million in U.S. support, said the country had successfully completed the process at the vast majority of the country's voting centers. Officials acknowledged "some problems," and said they would be investigated.

The council's assessment didn't fit with scenes observed at multiple polling centers Sunday, where many Haitians couldn't find their names on government voter rolls and were turned away. Other precincts reported scenes of violence and voter intimidation, as crowds of young men ransacked ballot boxes at several locations.

Still, the problems seemed to some observers more like symptoms of a country ravaged by an earthquake and cholera trying to conduct an election under difficult circumstances, rather than a nefarious government plot.

Final tallies aren't expected until Dec. 7 at the earliest, but it's possible, if not likely, that at least one of the two highest voter-getters - who would face each other in a Jan. 16 runoff - are among those who called for the results to be tossed out, including presumed front-runner and former first lady Mirlande Manigat.

Would they reject those results, even after finishing in the top two slots?

A day after leading street protests and calling for the vote to be annulled, pop star-turned-politician Michel "Sweet Micky" Martelly seemed to signal he would accept results if they came out in his favor. "I want everyone to respect the vote of the people," he said, while also calling for Preval and rival candidate Celestin to "leave the country."

The already chaotic situation took a turn toward the absurd Monday morning, when Haitian rap star Wyclef Jean summoned reporters to a hotel ballroom and issued a rambling statement calling for an unspecified "international investigation" of what occurred Sunday. He warned the country could "go up in flames" if that didn't occur in 24 hours.

Jean had attempted to run for president himself, but was ruled ineligible because he didn't meet residency requirements and has lived most of his life in the United States.

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