- The Washington Times - Monday, November 29, 2010

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti | The United Nations on Monday counseled against violence after Haiti’s electoral council refused demands by almost all of the major presidential candidates to throw out Sunday’s election results because of fraud allegations as many voters were turned away from the polls.

The U.N. mission to Haiti lamented “numerous incidents” that threatened the country’s first vote since January’s earthquake and warned “deterioration” of security could complicate efforts to treat a cholera epidemic that has killed more than 1,700 since October.

U.N. soldiers helping Haitian police guard polling places increased their presence Monday at the Electoral Council, where thousands protested after 12 of 18 candidates released a joint statement calling for protests to demand the vote be voided.

Electoral Council President Gaillot Dorsinvil denied fraud allegations and told Radio Metropole the vote was a “success,” with validated ballots from 96 percent of polling stations.

Front-runner Mirlande Manigat, a university professor and former senator whose husband was ousted after four months in office in 1988, accused the ruling INITE party of “massive fraud” and intimidation of voters at polls.

INITE candidate Jude Celestin, who was tapped to run by President Rene Preval, was the only one among leading candidates who did not join calls to toss out the results.

Election results aren’t expected until at least Dec. 7.

Clashes between rival political factions killed two people in the capital, Metropole reported. Voting was halted early in two northern towns as residents protested irregularities, while many voters in tent camps housing 1.3 million quake victims complained they were turned away from the polls.

At least 250,000 people were killed in January’s massive earthquake, and tension has mounted over the past 11 months as a lackluster aid effort has failed to meet needs of camp dwellers. Moreover, a cholera outbreak has intensified animosity toward the U.N. peacekeeping force.

The Organization of American States has said as many as 10 percent of voters were denied voter IDs before the vote, but the OAS did not give a statement immediately after the vote.

Mark Weisbrot, co-director of Washington-based Center for Economic and Policy Research, said the vote should be scrapped and the Electoral Council replaced before staging another election.

“The international community should reject these elections and affirm support for democratic institutions in Haiti,” Mr. Weisbrot said. “Otherwise, Haiti could be left with a government that is widely seen as illegitimate.”

Calls for an overhaul of the Electoral Council grew from its banning the Fanmi Lavalas party, led by supporters of exiled former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, from last year’s Senate elections for not filing proper paperwork.

The party boycotted last year’s vote, which saw an 11 percent turnout, according to Mr. Dorsinvil, whose appointment to the council was approved by Mr. Preval.

Mr. Dorsinvil defended the council’s neutrality and said he expects voter turnout to be higher in the presidential election amid rebuilding efforts.

About 4.5 million people were eligible to cast ballots for a new leader to replace Mr. Preval, along with 11 of 30 senators and all 99 Parliament deputies.

“We do our job. President Preval is the head of state and makes decisions to put us in the right direction, but he cannot just tell us to do this or that,” Mr. Dorsinvil said in an interview last week.

As much as $900 million of $2.12 billion pledged by the top 24 donor nations has been disbursed for Haiti recovery, according to a Nov. 23 U.N. Development Program report.

The candidates gave few hard details about how they plan to rebuild the country. Several ministries are still being operated out of temporary shelters. Instead, the campaign in dusty Port-au-Prince was focused on putting up colorful campaign posters to decorate the rubble in sprawling tent camps.

But nearly all of more than a dozen Haitians interviewed by The Washington Times expressed apathy for the election and said they would not vote.

Among the top candidates are Mrs. Manigat and Mr. Celestin, a 48-year-old engineer. Another is Michel Martelly, 49, a pop star revered among poor Haitians and known for blasting his Kompa dance music at his large rallies.

The charismatic Mr. Martelly led the protest on the electoral council on voting day accompanied by Haitian-born hip-hop artist Wyclef Jean, who was disqualified from running by the council in August.

The weeks before the campaign were marred by deadly outbursts as gunfire in street clashes between rival factions. Adding to the chaos, at least one person was killed in Nov. 15 protests against U.N. peacekeepers in Haiti’s second-largest city, Cap-Haitien, in demonstrations triggered by claims that Nepalese soldiers introduced cholera into the country.

Though the U.N. force of 8,900 “blue helmet” troops and 3,200 police officers is mandated to play a support role for Haitian police, the foreign force outnumbers the underpaid, ill-equipped Haitian force of 9,000 police. The military was abolished in 1995.

“We are assisting them, but because we have the equipment and the training, it looks like we’re taking over. But we have to stick to our mandate,” said U.N. police Officer Andre LeClerc as he met with Haitian police for a joint patrol.

The U.N. has had five peacekeeping missions in Haiti over the past 17 years, with the current one beginning in 2004. Haiti has depended on foreign aid for everything from food to reconstruction for decades.

Since the earthquake, businesses have begun catering to the growing number of aid workers, providing cell-phone package deals for non-governmental organizations and to specialty food imports. Aid workers browsing the shelves at a supermarket in the relatively upscale neighborhood of Pentionville near the capital found few Haitian products among the organic chai tea and microwavable flatbread melts.

Another new economy is sprouting in Haiti’s tent camps, with barber shops, book vendors and entire markets popping up within. A man hawked pirated CDs in a tent camp in front of the half-collapsed presidential palace on a recent afternoon as U.N. police patroled nearby.

Some Haitians see the peacekeepers, who have increased their presence since the quake, as the only way to keep order in a country wrought by Job-like misfortune and where leaders are routinely ousted in coups.

But those who say the forces threaten Haitian sovereignty were bolstered by reports that the a U.N. camp in northern Haiti may have caused the cholera outbreak that has produced 70,000 cases due to leaky septic tanks.

Health authorities are investigating whether the tanks contaminated the Artibonite River, which is in a region where the majority of cholera cases have occurred, according to the Pan American Health Organization. The camp was inhabited by U.N. soldiers from Nepal, where a cholera outbreak recently occurred.

The U.N. mission has denied responsibility.

“We’ve investigated as much as we could,” said Vincenzo Pugliese, the mission’s spokesman, “now its up to health experts or scientists to investigate.”

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