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#3797: Chaotic vote count casts doubt on Haiti election (fwd)

From: Rosann Clements <rosann@onemain.com>

May 22, 22:50 EDT
Chaotic vote count casts doubt on Haiti election
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) - Poring through mounds of ballots, Haitian
officials struggled Monday to tabulate the results of legislative and local
elections aimed at getting the country back on the road to democracy.
While Sunday's election was marked by relative peace, the chaos surrounding
Monday's vote count was ''most unfortunate,'' said Ambassador Orlando
Marville of the Organization of American States, supervisor of more than 200
foreign observers, including 10 Canadians.
Three people have been killed. On Sunday, a police officer was slain by a
supporter of a candidate and the suspect was shot to death by police. On
Monday an opposition candidate was stoned to death during a clash with
supporters of former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
Officials warned that a disorganized and prolonged count would be vulnerable
to tampering.
Jean-Paul Poirier, a Canadian consultant to the electoral council, who
organized an effort to save materials in several areas, said ballots and
ballot boxes were ``strewn all over the streets at 3 a.m.''
It wasn't clear whether the ballots were intentionally dumped by people
trying to thwart the election or unintentionally by election workers, he
In suburban Delmas, hundreds of boxes were piled up in disorder, and final
tally sheets were scattered across a courtyard.
In the Port-au-Prince tabulation centre, four officials sat atop piles of
votes half a metre high, trying Monday to collate tally sheets. About 29,490
candidates had contested 7,625 posts in the legislature, mayoral
commissions, and local and rural councils. Runoffs were scheduled for June
Meanwhile, the Lavalas Family party of Aristide claimed victory, though no
results had been announced. Hundreds of militants poured into the streets to
Opposition parties charged in a joint statement that ``an electoral coup''
was in the works to give a landslide victory to Lavalas and Aristide, who is
favoured to win presidential elections this fall.
Bickering over fraud in the 1997 election led to a feud between Parliament
and President Rene Preval, who is allied with Aristide. Preval disbanded
Parliament and ruled by decree - creating an unconstitutional government
that Sunday's vote was supposed to fix.
The United States and United Nations both urged Haiti to hold the elections,
and foreign creditors suspended $500 million US in aid until the Caribbean
nation re-established a constitutional government.
But Monday's harried vote-counting cast doubt on the election's credibility.
Opposition politicians claimed Aristide loyalists had controlled polling
stations and expelled opposition observers.
Some polling stations opened late Sunday, and hundreds never opened - which
the opposition claimed was the result of a deliberate attempt to discourage
its supporters from voting.
''We will not accept the results of these elections without an evaluation''
by national and international observers, said Evans Paul, spokesman for the
five-party Space for Concord coalition.
Riot police fired tear gas Monday to disperse a few dozen opposition
supporters protesting alleged vote-rigging.
After the police left, hundreds of Aristide militants chased the
demonstrators with a storm of stones. Jean-Michel Olophene, who was running
for Port-au-Prince's local consultative assembly, was found dead afterward,
his head smashed in by stones.