Port-au-Prince: Fraud fears dogged the run-up to Presidential Elections in Haiti, a desperately poor Caribbean nation gripped by cholera and struggling to rebuild after a devastating earthquake.
As the cholera toll soared past 1,600 and the number of confirmed infections approached 70,000, candidates cranked up campaigning ahead of Sunday`s crucial elections to decide a successor to President Rene Preval.
The head of Haiti`s electoral registry, which signs up eligible voters and is tasked with verifying their IDs on election day, voiced fears that widespread fraud could "hijack" the result of Sunday`s polls.
"I think there will be fraud everywhere," the top official, Philippe Augustin, said.
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 tally sheets”.
Leading the race to the ruined palace are Jude Celestin, the ruling party candidate backed by Preval, and Mirlande Manigat, a 70-year-old former first lady and academic who is ahead in most opinion polls and could become Haiti`s first female president.
None of the 18 candidates are expected to pass the 50 percent threshold for outright victory, meaning a January 16 run-off would be required. Results of the first round may not be known until December.
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.
The head of the UN peacekeeping mission MINUSTAH, Guatemalan Edmond Mulet, offered reassurances, telling a press conference that things were "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 in Washington on Thursday a top UN health official said that going forward with the elections was not expected to increase the spread of cholera.
Some 3,200 UN police will joint almost 9,000 Haitian security forces to police the vote.