Haiti: Popular Anger Unabated over Chaotic Polls
PORT-AU-PRINCE - Furious demonstrations continued across Haiti on Wednesday following the Nov. 28 highly contested election in which thousands found themselves unable to vote.
Rock-throwing and road-barricading protests were reported in Les Cayes, Hinche, Petit Goave and Archaie. On Tuesday, demonstrators clashed with United Nations peacekeeping troops in St. Marc and Gonaives. The U.N. mission issued several alerts to its personnel restricting movement.
Twelve of 19 presidential candidates called on Sunday for cancellation of the election results. They allege widespread fraud by the government in favour of the ruling party's candidate, Jude Celestin.
Konpa singer Michel Martelly and another leading candidate have since backed away from the allegations.
"He saw all the fraud happening on election day," motorcycle taxi driver Weed Charlot told IPS. "But now he sees he has some votes and power. So he'll accept the election."
Haiti's Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) and the primary international observer mission said despite "irregularities", there is not sufficient reason to invalidate the election.
"If it is requested, I am sure the international community stands ready to assist in the investigation of irregularities reported, said Assistant Secretary General of the Organisation of American States Albert R. Ramdin on Wednesday.
The U.S. Embassy supports the recommendations of the OAS, a spokesperson told IPS.
IPS witnessed several polling stations in the capital city that opened hours late on election day. Hundreds of Haitian citizens unable to find their names on electoral lists were turned away.
At Building 2004 in central Port-au-Prince, chaos reigned.
"We come to vote this morning and we can't find ballots to vote. A group of Jude Celestin partisans came with their weapons and troubled the poll station. Nobody stopped them," voter Celito Cesard told IPS.
In the afternoon, crowds chanted, "If they prevent us from voting we will set a fire." Some ran into the building, grabbed ballot boxes and threw them into pools of water in the street.
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reported brazen ballot stuffing at another polling station.
Outside the capital city there were only 39 registered voters at Camp Corail, a planned settlement for at least 6,000 victims of January's earthquake. Camp residents whose registrations had not been updated were so enraged they attacked the polling station with rocks, forcing its closure. U.N. police were overwhelmed and forced to evacuate the camp.
Sources in Hinche, a medium-size city in the Haiti's central countryside, told IPS most people stayed home from the polls.
So did Joel St. Jerome Jacques, still living with his family under a tarp in Petionville. He sat glumly on a concrete step on the outskirts of a makeshift camp on Sunday across from a polling station. A raucous demonstration of outraged voters waving Martelly posters drew closer.
"The election is an element of development, it's a civic right that we're told we should exercise since we're children. But for me this election didn't really happen," St. Jerome Jacques told IPS.
He lost his national identification card and tried, in vain, to get a new one from a nearby government office before election day.
"Many people couldn't find their cards - they lost them and that's a reason they've taken to the streets," he said. "I've been here since Jan. 12! They said they would help us get out of here. But nothing's happened, they don't do anything serious."
Votes are now being counted in tabulation centres and the final results are to be announced on Dec. 20. There will be a short period for candidates to officially contest the outcomes, before a runoff between the top two vote-getters on Jan. 16.
U.S. Senator Richard Lugar blamed Sunday's disorder on outgoing President Rene Préval. Préval's government dismissed his recommendations in a mid-summer report for the appointment of a new CEP and inclusion of parties like Fanmi Lavalas, barred from the ballot, in the election.
"As a result, the elections have been fraught with numerous reports of irregularities and fraud," Lugar said in a Wednesday hearing of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Six Haitian civil society groups also issued a statement condemning Préval and the CEP for organising a highly flawed election and the anger that followed.
Préval is painted as a passive and aloof head of state in two secret State Department cables recently released by Wikileaks. He tolerates little dissent from his cabinet and doesn't read the news, but is prone to micro-management, they say.
The cables constitute an exhaustive profile of Préval, analysing his major relationships and mentioning "special intelligence" on his medical habits. He takes two- to three- hour naps every afternoon and is rumoured to be drinking heavily.
His nationalism and independence are seen as added difficulties. The cables speak of "finding creative ways to work with him, influence him" and "manage" him.
"He remains skeptical about the international community's commitment to his government's goals, for instance telling me that he is suspicious of how the Collier report will be used," says a June 2009 cable by the George W. Bush administration's U.S. ambassador to Haiti.
British economist Paul Collier authored a U.N.-commissioned report on Haiti in January last year. It called for major private investments in the garment-making sector and in agricultural exports to create jobs. Since then, the document has been touted by the international community and Haitian government as a foundation for its long-term development strategy.
There are a further 1,212 cables from the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince still unreleased to the public as of this writing. An embassy spokesperson condemned the leak in a statement to IPS.