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In Haiti, tentative calm follows chaotic elections

Two popular presidential candidates are said to be leading in the ballot count. Foreign diplomats hope the vote will produce a legitimate winner, preventing more violence.

November 30, 2010|By Joe Mozingo, Los Angeles Times
  • Desir Frenel, 39, a father of three who lost his home in the January earthquake, struggles to make a living removing rubble in Port-au-Prince. Foreign diplomats hope the vote will produce a legitimate government to expedite rebuilding.
Desir Frenel, 39, a father of three who lost his home in the January earthquake,… (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles…)

Reporting from Port-au-Prince, Haiti — A quiet tension settled over Haiti on Monday as people waited to learn how electoral officials proceed in handling Sunday's chaos-marred national balloting and the international community hoped the earthquake-ravaged country did not descend yet again into violence.

A leading presidential candidate, singer Michel "Sweet Micky" Martelly, who joined 11 others the day before in asking for the elections to be canceled, suggested he was now open to letting the results be counted, while still insisting "massive fraud" had been committed. His party said results posted at each polling station around the nation showed him far ahead of other candidates.

Word was spreading that Martelly and Mirlande Manigat, a professor and former first lady, were the front-runners, despite allegations that President Rene Preval tried to steal the election for his Unity party and its candidate, Jude Celestin.

The results for presidential and parliamentary candidates are being tabulated in a warehouse in Port-au-Prince and are not expected to be released until Dec. 7.

International donor countries had pushed Haiti to hold elections despite disarray after the massive January earthquake, which has left more than a million people living in tent camps and a growing cholera epidemic killing hundreds and causing panic. They hoped the polling would produce a legitimate — and more decisive — government that would expedite the rebuilding process to which they have pledged billions of dollars.

Now diplomats hope that as people get wind that Martelly and Manigat, two candidates with clear support on the streets, are leading, they will not stage the type of massive protest and disruption many feared.

"We think the picture will be clear sooner than Dec. 7," said a U.S. official who requested anonymity. Numerous officials with observers across the country said they found little support for Celestin.

A Times reporter visiting several polling places found Martelly in the lead in each one, with Manigat in second place and Celestin far behind. But it was hard not to notice the problems. At a polling place in Petionville, where more than 2,700 people were registered to vote, 158 cast ballots, if the results posted on a wall were to be trusted.

A joint mission by the Organization of American States and the Caribbean Community said the issues were not of a "magnitude or consistency" to skew the results and urged the candidates to tone down their rhetoric.

"The irregularities were not enough, serious as some of them were, to invalidate the process," said Colin Granderson, head of the mission.

Earlier in the day, rap star Wyclef Jean, a popular figure in Haiti, whose candidacy was rejected by the electoral council, called a news conference at an upscale hotel to say the country could "go up in flames" if the international community did not somehow intervene.

"I came here today because I know that in 24 hours, if we do not have a decision, this country will rise to a level of violence we have not seen before," he said.

Jean said that the clear front-runners were Martelly, Manigat and Jean-Henry Ceant, and that the other candidates should concede.

Martelly held a news conference an hour later at the same hotel in which he was introduced as the president of Haiti. "The population is ready to scream victory, and they are ready to fight for this change," he said.

Martelly would not say what specifically he wanted the electoral council to do, aside from respecting the will of the people.

U.N., U.S. and other foreign officials spent much of the day quietly assessing why many voters Sunday could not find their names on electoral rolls, and why some polling centers were ransacked.

Granderson, of the OAS-Caribbean Community mission, said the problems appeared to be more the result of disorganization than malfeasance. Voters did not know where they were supposed to vote. A call center meant to guide them quickly became overwhelmed. Poll workers did not maintain control of the voting space, so the areas were mobbed.

He said there was also some evidence of repeat voting and acts of violence and intimidation.

Martenel Destine, 42, said thugs were all over his polling place in the suburb of Le Plen.

"They tried to pressure me to vote for Jude, so I just headed back," he said.

joe.mozingo@latimes.com

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