PORT-AU-PRINCE – Haitians faced growing concerns of voter
fraud Friday ahead of presidential elections as the desperately poor
nation gripped by cholera struggles to rebuild after a devastating
With the cholera toll soaring past 1,600 and the number of confirmed
infections approaching 70,000, candidates cranked up campaigning ahead
of Sunday's crucial vote for a successor to President Rene Preval.
The head of Haiti's electoral registry, which signs up eligible
voters and verifies their IDs on election day, voiced fears Thursday
that widespread fraud could "hijack" poll results.
"I think there will be fraud everywhere," Philippe Augustin told AFP.
Richard Dumel of the Provisional Electoral Council said he was aware
of fraudulent papers in circulation but insisted the election
organisers had "the technical means of detecting false ballots and false
Leading the race to the ruined palace were Jude Celestin, the ruling
party candidate backed by Preval, and Mirlande Manigat, a 70-year-old
former first lady and academic who leads most opinion polls and could
become Haiti's first female president. Facts: Haiti's leading candidates
None of the 18 candidates is expected to pass the 50 percent
threshold for outright victory, paving the way for a January 16 run-off.
Results of the first round may not be known until December.
The winner will face an almost insurmountable task in the midst of
an explosive mixture of disaster, intense poverty, fresh economic
turmoil and a roiling cholera epidemic.
"The new government will have great difficulty serving the
population. The administration is in tents, it was amputated of
competent staff and it has lost its records and benchmarks," said Joseph
Jasmin, Haiti's minister of parliamentary relations.
The lead-up to the election has been marred by deadly clashes
between rival political factions and anti-UN riots in the northern city
of Cap-Haitien over the growing cholera outbreak.
UN peacekeeping mission chief Edmond Mulet of Guatemala offered
reassurances the situation was "calm, peaceful, serene and without
violence" compared to polls in previous years.
"There were two deaths two days ago, there was friction but a lot
less than the country saw in the past. There will be blunders, dirty
tricks, but there will be less than in the past," Mulet said.
Haitian officials have ignored calls to delay the vote and a top UN
health official said that going forward with the elections was not
expected to increase the spread of cholera.
Jon Andrus, deputy director of the Pan American Health Organization,
noted that cholera is transmitted almost exclusively through fecal
contamination of water and food.
"The kind of movement and congregating you see with people going to
vote is not the kind of movement that creates an increased risk of
cholera transmission," he said.
Mulet reiterated that all cholera tests so far on Nepalese
peacekeepers, who are accused of bringing the disease into the country,
have proved negative. Interview: Mirlande Manigat wants UN peacekeepers
The Nepalese were placed under special protection after the protests
last week, which followed accusations that cholera leaked into the
central Artibonite River from infected feces in their camp.
Although the UN Security Council renewed the MINUSTAH peacekeeping
mission's mandate for another year in October, Mulet said it could be
reassessed in April and May if the elections pass without incident and
power is transferred democratically.
MINUSTAH could then return to plans "for the reduction and eventual departure of the mission," he added.
Haiti's next president faces the daunting task of rebuilding a
traumatised nation of 10 million still struggling to recover from the
earthquake more than 10 months ago that flattened Port-au-Prince and
claimed 250,000 lives.
Some 1.3 million people displaced by the quake still live in tent
cities in the capital -- hundreds of thousands more inhabit sprawling,
sometimes violent slums -- all now prey to the spiraling cholera
More than four million Haitians are eligible to vote in the
elections that will also see 11 of the country's 30 senators and all 99
parliamentary deputies chosen.
Some 3,200 UN police will join almost 9,000 Haitian security forces to police the vote.