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Burned Ballots Inflame Haitian Election Tensions
Published on Wednesday, February 15, 2006 by Reuters
Burned Ballots Inflame Haitian Election Tensions
by Joseph Guyler Delva
 

Haiti's electoral council said on Tuesday it would launch an investigation after burned ballots, many cast a week ago for former president Rene Preval, were found still smoldering in a state dump.

Preval, a one-time ally of ousted president Jean-Bertrand Aristide opposed by the same wealthy elite who helped drive Aristide from power two years ago, said on Tuesday that only "massive fraud" had prevented him from winning a first-round victory in the February 7 election.

A few hours later, reports that hundreds and maybe thousands of ballots had been found discarded in a massive garbage dump in Port-au-Prince rippled through the ranks of Preval supporters, triggering anger and demonstrations after nightfall.

"That's absolutely unacceptable," said Rosemond Pradel, secretary-general of the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) charged with organizing the impoverished Caribbean country's presidential election -- the first vote since Aristide was ousted by an armed revolt and international pressure to quit.

"The CEP was not handling the ballots," Pradel said. He said securing the ballots after they had been cast was the responsibility of the 9,000-strong U.N. force trying to keep the peace in Haiti, known by its acronym MINUSTAH.

"I cannot answer to those problems but we are going to set up a commission to investigate the problem," Pradel said.

U.N. spokesman David Wimhurst said ballots were supposed to have been sealed in bags and placed in a container, protected by U.N. troops. "It's not normal to have these ballots there."

Wimhurst suggested the discarded ballots could have come from nine polling stations outside Port-au-Prince ransacked during the election, with the loss of around 35,000 votes. He also acknowledged that polling station workers, who were often of the same political group, could have engaged in fraud.

In the district of Truitier, where the burned ballots were found, angry Preval supporters and local residents denounced what they saw as an attempt to deny them a voice in Haiti's fractious and fragile democracy.

"The people are not going to accept losing their February 7 vote," said a community leader who did not give his name.

He said residents had seen unfamiliar garbage trucks pulling up to the dump since last Thursday but hadn't thought anything of it.

"They took all Preval's ballots. They threw them away in order to prevent the vote of the people from passing. That is a crime," said Rene Monplaisir, an official in the Preval campaign.

Copyright © 2006 Reuters Limited

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