Port-au-Prince: Haiti`s election ended in discord on Sunday, with nearly all the major presidential candidates calling for the vote to be voided over fraud and UN peacekeepers lamenting "numerous incidents that marred the elections”.
Sunday evening found crowds surging through the streets carrying tree branches and campaign posters, some protesting problems with the balloting but most jubilantly claiming victory for their candidates.
Twelve of the 19 candidates for president endorsed a joint statement denouncing the voting as fraudulent and calling on their supporters to show their anger with demonstrations against the government and the country`s Provisional Electoral Council, known as the CEP.
"It is clear that the government of Rene Preval, in agreement with the CEP, is putting into execution the plan hatched to tamper with the elections ... with the help of the official political party and its candidate, Jude Celestin," independent candidate Anne Marie Josette Bijou read as nearly every other candidate nodded in agreement.
The statement included all of the major contenders but one: Jude Celestin, who is backed by the Unity party of President Rene Preval.
Preval twice sailed into office with the backing of ousted former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide`s supporters, but was branded a traitor for not returning his predecessor from exile. Frustrations grew as Haiti`s economy remained one of the world`s worst. When the laconic leader disappeared from sight following the January 12 earthquake, frustration boiled into anger.
Until tapped as a candidate by Preval, Celestin was the little-known head of the state-run construction company whose dump trucks carted many of the quake`s estimated 300,000 dead to mass graves. His well-funded campaign, the first under Preval`s newly created party, included airplanes trailing banners with his name and dropping leaflets that fluttered like yellow-and-green birds over tent camps for the quake homeless.
A text message sent to Haitian cell phones on Saturday summed up the primary message of Celestin`s campaign: "Let`s assure stability”. His campaign workers already referred to him as "The President”.
But support for the other candidates was far more passionate. Some opinion polls put Mirlande Manigat, 70-year-old former first lady whose husband was helped to power and then deposed by a military junta, as the likely winner. Michel "Sweet Micky" Martelly, known for jazzy, sarcastic dance music, had thousands of urban youths toting his pink signs and shouting to "Vote for the bald head!"
In other races, ninety-six contenders were competing for 11 Senate seats and more than 800 others were seeking to fill the 99-seat lower house.
But the day was thrown into chaos around 2 pm when nearly the entire presidential ballot took the stage in the ballroom of an upscale hotel to roars from their followers. Individual cheers melded into a single chant of "Haiti! Haiti!" before the crowd burst into Haiti`s national anthem.
The statement called on people to protest, concluding that the fraud was a ploy by "the corrupt government of Preval" to "perpetuate his power and keep the people hostage to continue their misery”.
The crowd erupted in cheers and chanted "Arrest Preval!" as the rival candidates joined hands and raised their arms in triumph.
Demonstrators were already in the streets, some outside the gates of the hotel, as body-armoured UN peacekeepers and Haitian police moved out in trucks and a UN helicopter circled the election headquarters.
Thousands continued protesting peacefully into the night, some throwing rocks at police who fired back tear gas. People danced through the major cities of Port-au-Prince and Cap-Haitien, carrying posters of their candidates and chanting their names, most celebrating Martelly, the popular musician.
The electoral council never suspended voting, though the presence of protesters on the street from early afternoon likely affected turnout in the capital. In an evening news conference, the council praised the day`s voting and denounced the candidates` protest, saying after repeated questioning from local media that the challenge was not a legal document.