Haiti votes in historic election as reports of fraud emerge

Polling centres open late but candidates complain of irregularities in Port-au-Prince and other cities

Street protests flared across Haiti last night as 12 of Haiti’s 18 presidential candidates denounced ‘massive fraud’ in yesterday’s election.

Balloting, in what was billed by the international community as a historic election, was largely peaceful but marred by confusion, apathy and reports of irregularities.

The instant repudiation by so many presidential candidates could spark a turbulent week as votes are counted and leave questions over the mandate of the new president, government and congress.

‘We denounce a massive fraud that is occurring across the country … We demand the cancellation pure and simple of these skewed elections,’ the 12 presidential candidates, which included all main opposition groups, said in a statement read to reporters at a Port-au-Prince hotel. They accused the outgoing President René Préval’s Inite (Unity) coalition of rigging the vote in favour of its candidate, Jules Celestin.

The Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) said voting went well at most of the 11,000 polling stations. ‘The CEP is comfortable with the vote,’ the council president, Gaillot Dorsainvil, told reporters. Foreign observers from the UN and OAS said they were still gathering information from the vote.

Whoever takes power will inherit a country wracked by poverty, earthquake damage and cholera, as well as a chance to influence reconstruction and the spending of billions of dollars in aid.

Many polling centres opened late, producing queues of angry, suspicious would-be voters. In others, voting seemed slow, with police and observers outnumbering those who had come to cast a ballot.

In the shanty town of Cité Soleil, some reported seeing ballot boxes snatched. In St Philomene neighbourhood, a crowd of one candidate’s supporters jostled and expelled two Associated Press journalists who tried to investigate claims of irregularities.

With state institutions in ruins since January’s earthquake, many people have not been issued with identity documents in time to vote, and at least tens of thousands of dead remain on the voter registry. One observer, Nicole Phillips, a US law professor, told Reuters: ‘People can’t find their names on the lists. They are holding their IDs, they are eligible to vote, but they can’t do it.’

Because of logistical problems, preliminary results are not due until 5 December, setting the scene for a tense week of rumours and behind-the-scenes manoeuvring.

Final results are due on 20 December. If no presidential candidate receives more than 50% of the vote, there will be a runoff in January.

Other frontrunners include Mirlande Manigat, a Sorbonne-educated former first lady, and Jean Henry Ceant, a protege of the exiled president Jean-Bertrand Aristide. The 90-seat chamber of deputies and 11 of the 30 seats on the senate are also up for grabs.

Foreign governments and the United Nations, which runs a 12,000-strong peace-keeping mission in Haiti, hope the election will replace Preval with a leader with the strength and legitimacy to help rebuild a shattered state.