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Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Candidates call to halt Haiti poll

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Electoral workers count votes after the closing of polling stations in Port-au-Prince (AP)

Haiti’s election has ended in discord with nearly all the major presidential candidates calling for it to be disallowed over fraud and claims that large numbers of voters were turned away across the quake-stricken country.

Crowds surged through the streets of the capital Port-au-Prince protesting at problems with the balloting, while others held impromptu celebrations to cheer 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 – CEP. The statement included all of the major contenders but one – Jude Celestin, who is backed by the Unity party of President Rene Preval.

The CEP had earlier acknowledged problems with the voter lists but said immediately after the candidates’ news conference that the election would continue.

Even so, the united front of so many candidates could cast doubt on the legitimacy of the election, the first since the January earthquake destroyed much of the capital, leaving more than a million people still stranded in crowded tent encampments.

The call for protests could also spark violence, especially with tensions already high following a series of deadly clashes earlier this month between United Nations peacekeepers and demonstrators who suspected them of bringing a rapidly-spreading cholera outbreak.

Thousands took to the streets of Port-au-Prince and Cap-Haitien, the second-largest city, after the polls closed, dancing and carrying posters of their candidates. Most seemed to be celebrating presidential-candidate-turned-musician Michel “Sweet Micky” Martelly. Police fired tear gas to disperse demonstrators near an electoral office in the Delmas section of the capital but there were no immediate reports of major violence.

Wyclef Jean, the Haitian-American singer whose own bid for president ended with an August disqualification, joined a convoy led by two candidates – Martelly and factory owner Charles Henri-Baker – to CEP headquarters, where they hoped to meet officials.

It was not yet clear whether the problems were the result of orchestrated fraud or merely disorganisation made worse by the January 12 earthquake.

Voters and candidates said Mr Preval, who was barred from running for re-election, was trying to sway the vote in favour of Mr Celestin. Electoral rolls were filled with the dead, and many living citizens were struggling to work out if and where they could vote.

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