Haitian Official Alleges Vote Manipulation
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) _ A member of Haiti’s electoral council said results of the presidential elections were being manipulated, echoing complaints by throngs of supporters of Rene Preval, who poured into the streets on Sunday with angry allegations of fraud.
With 75 percent of votes counted, Preval was falling short of winning Tuesday’s elections outright by less than a percentage point.
``According to me, there’s a certain level of manipulation,″ Pierre Richard Duchemin, an electoral council member, told The Associated Press, adding that ``there is an effort to stop people from asking questions″ about the tabulation process.
Duchemin said Sunday he needed access to tallies of vote counts in hopes of learning who was behind the alleged manipulation. He called for an investigation.
Preval’s supporters poured out of different neighborhoods of the capital and converged on the electoral council headquarters. Blowing horns and pounding drums, they denounced Jacques Bernard, director-general of the nine-member electoral council.
``Jacques Bernard is a thief. He doesn’t know how to count!″ they chanted. A cordon of police clad in camouflage and carrying rifles and shotguns blocked their path.
Bernard denied accusations the council voided many votes for Preval, a former president.
Suspicion has risen among many Haitians that the results were being manipulated in the five days since voters turned out in droves to elect a new government. It will replace an interim government installed after then-President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was ousted in a bloody rebellion two years ago.
Jean-Henoc Faroul, the president of an electoral district with 400,000 voters northeast of the capital, accused the electoral commission of trying to force a runoff, saying tally sheets from Preval strongholds have vanished.
``The electoral council is trying to do what it can to diminish the percentage of Preval so it goes to a second round,″ Faroul told The Associated Press. Faroul said he wanted Preval to win but added that he would be protesting if any candidate was being denied votes by manipulation.
``I am not only the president of an electoral board, but I also vote,″ Faroul said. ``And I want my vote and the votes of all the people to be respected.″
Preval demonstrators threatened violence if Preval is not declared the first-round winner. They drove and walked Sunday evening to the upscale Montana hotel, in the Petionville suburb in the hills above Port-au-Prince, to confront election council members. The electoral council abruptly canceled a Sunday evening news conference.
``If they take the election from Preval, it’s not going to go smoothly,″ said Robert Antoine, a 23-year-old from the Bel-Air slum. ``The people voted massively for Preval, and it seems the electoral commission is playing games with the results.″
Duchemin accused Bernard of ``megalomania,″ saying he had blocked other council members from getting information on the tabulation process.
``What we’re talking about now is a magician that is sitting down and saying ’I am the only one doing something ... everything I’m doing is perfect,‴ Duchemin said. ``We’re playing with the future of this country and this is something we can’t afford.″
Preval was leading 33 candidates with 49.1 percent of the vote, short of the 50 percent plus one vote he needs to avoid a March 19 runoff with the runner-up. Leslie Manigat, also a former president, was second with 11.7 percent of the vote.
South African Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu, presiding over services at Trinity Cathedral in Port-au-Prince, urged Haitians to be patient.
``They’ve started well, let them finish the race well,″ Tutu, the retired Anglican archbishop of Cape Town, South Africa, told the AP. ``And I think they will, that they will be peaceful and that they will accept the results of the elections.″
An estimated 2.2 million people cast ballots, or 63 percent of registered voters.
About 125,000 ballots _ or 7.5 percent of the votes cast _ have been declared invalid because of irregularities, raising suspicion among Preval supporters that polling officials are trying to steal the election. Another 4 percent of the ballots were blank but were still added into the total, making it harder Preval to obtain the 50 percent plus one vote needed.