Haiti announces vote tally recheck to stem unrest

Haiti says it will review the disputed result of its presidential election, after angry demonstrations by supporters of a losing candidate.

Last Updated: Dec 10, 2010, 09:08 AM IST

Port-au-prince: Haiti`s electoral authorities said on Thursday they would urgently recheck vote tally sheets from the Caribbean country`s troubled presidential elections to try to defuse a dispute over the results that has triggered nationwide unrest.

The move followed violent protests since Tuesday by supporters of popular musician and presidential candidate Michel Martelly, who was eliminated from a deciding run-off in results released by the Provisional Electoral Council.

At least four people were killed in this week`s unrest, which has dimmed international hopes that the UN-backed elections held on November 28 could create stability for Haiti as it struggles to recover from a devastating January earthquake.

In a statement, the electoral council said the review by a special commission, including international observers, would verify tally sheets of votes cast for the top three contenders -- Mirlande Manigat, Jude Celestin and Martelly.

Representatives of all three candidates said they welcomed the electoral authority`s initiative to clear up doubts about the results.

The council`s preliminary results from the November 28 elections were released late on Tuesday and showed former first lady Manigat and government technocrat Celestin going through to a final decisive presidential run-off in January.

Entertainer "Sweet Micky" Martelly had finished third, less than a percentage point behind Celestin, according to these results which have been rejected by Martelly.

He accuses outgoing President Rene Preval and his protege Celestin of rigging the results and thousands of his supporters have paralyzed the capital Port-au-Prince and other cities in mass protests that included attacks on public buildings.

Port-au-Prince was calmer on Thursday, as rain appeared to discourage wider protests. But flaming barricades blocked some streets and crowds of Martelly supporters still roamed around. Well-armed UN Indian peacekeepers reinforced the heavy Haitian police guard at the electoral authority headquarters.

US travel warning

On Thursday at least one person was shot dead and three injured in a crowded earthquake survivors camp near the damaged presidential palace following a confrontation between supporters of Celestin and Martelly, witnesses said.

Noting the "nature, intensity and unpredictability" of the recent protests, the State Department in Washington urged US citizens to avoid non-essential travel to Haiti.

The Provisional Electoral Council said its decision to carry out a "rapid and exceptional" review of the results tally sheets took into account "the clear dissatisfaction of many voters, protests and acts of violence" since Tuesday.

Celestin`s Inite (Unity) coalition said it welcomed the move. "There has been a smear campaign against Inite. They have been making us out to be cheaters, fraudsters while we are the victims of the frauds and manipulations," Inite`s national coordinator Joseph Lambert said.

On Wednesday, Martelly`s rampaging supporters had torched Inite`s headquarters in the capital.

The United Nations, United States and European Union had expressed concerns about what they called irregularities and inconsistencies in Tuesday`s election results.

Washington and Brussels said the results did not appear to tally with vote count projections by election observers that showed Manigat and Martelly going to a run-off.

The international community has called for calm and for any disputes to be resolved through peaceful, legal channels.

The electoral council commission to carry out the verification would include representatives of the three candidates involved and national and international observers. No time frame for the work was given. The council is due to confirm results from the November 28 vote first round on December 20.

"It`s positive, certainly ... It`s a reaction obviously to the problems created by the preliminary results," said Ambassador Colin Granderson, head of the joint Organization of American States/Caribbean Community election observer mission.

The OAS/Caricom mission and the United Nations had initially cautiously endorsed the confused November 28 vote as acceptable, despite noting many "irregularities."

The voting, which saw scenes of disorganization, anger and frustration at many polling stations in the capital, took place in the midst of a seven-week-old raging cholera epidemic that has killed more than 2,000 people.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and health authorities warned that the election unrest was stopping victims of the deadly epidemic from getting urgent treatment and risked disrupting the international medical response if it lasts.

"People can`t move, can`t work, can`t go to school. The stores are closed. They`ve blocked the country," said Cinqetoile Jazze, 35, a security guard in Port-au-Prince.

Bureau Report