Haiti Suspends Vote-Counting in Presidential Election

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Authorities have suspended vote-counting one week after Haiti's presidential election. Front-runner Rene Preval claimed that massive fraud was preventing him from winning in the first round. Thousands of Preval's supporters held a demonstration Tuesday night after burned ballots were found smoldering on a dump.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

One week after Haiti's presidential election, vote counting has been suspended. Authorities took that step after the leading candidate claimed massive fraud. That candidate, Rene Preval, wanted an outright majority that would prevent a runoff election. He'd been losing his lead as the count went on.

Thousands of his supporters held a demonstration last night after burned ballots were found smoldering in a dump. Reporter Amelia Shaw has been covering this story from the capital Port-a-Prince, and she's on the line. And first, we should ask why there have not been vote totals announced. They were expected a few days after the vote last week.

AMELIA SHAW reporting:

First of all, I think that, being that we're in Haiti, there are quite a number of logistical issues to deal with. They were using mules to transport the ballots from rural areas into the capital. And so, that did cause some delays. But secondly, the demonstrations that have been going on in Port-au-Prince for the last couple of days have paralyzed the city, essentially. And on Monday and yesterday, roads were barricaded and people could not go to work, and that included election workers.

And thirdly, there's some speculation that election officials may not want to release final results. There are only about 10 percent of the votes left to be counted, but the results to now are showing that Preval is just under 49% of the vote. And there is speculation that if election officials release these results, that would cause more demonstration.

INSKEEP: Well, what has the leading candidate, Preval, done as the vote count has gone somewhat against him, and as the city has become paralyzed?

SHAW: I think that the international community was expecting Preval to come out and appeal for calm, to tell people to return to their homes, wait for the votes to be counted, for final results to be released, and then, essentially, to follow the Democratic process, and if he didn't get the 50 percent that he needed, to go into a second round vote for him, and that he would win. But he did not say that. In fact, he said, pretty much, quite the opposite. He said that he is convinced that there is probably major fraud that happened in the elections, and that if he doesn't get 50 percent of the vote, he will contest, and the people will contest behind him.

INSKEEP: Well, how have officials explained these ballots found burned in a dump?

SHAW: Images were flashed on national television here in Haiti last night at about 8 p.m., and this incensed people. And people went to the dumpsite, they rummaged through the ballots, they picked them up, and I have seen them distributed in the city. And so this, in people' mind, is material proof of fraud. But we still have to say we don't know where these ballots have come from. We don't know whether or not they're valid, or how they got there.

The U.N. says they may be from nine voting centers that were ransacked in the north of the country on voting day. They said that somewhere around 35,000 ballots went missing.

INSKEEP: Amelia, a lot of people are not going to be familiar with Rene Preval, the key person in this situation. Who is he?

SHAW: Rene Preval was president in Haiti from 1996 to 2001, and he was sandwiched in between two terms of former president Jean Bertrand Aristide, and many people continue to see Preval as a protégé of Aristide. Preval is a person that throughout this campaign, he has been a quiet man. He has not spoken very much to the press, and he did not have a very vocal campaign. But what has been interesting is that, as his vote count descended over the past few days, is when he started to come out to the press and voice his concerns about election fraud.

INSKEEP: And when his supporters became more vocal on the streets, as well. We're talking to reporter, Amelia Shaw, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Thanks very much.

SHAW: Thank you.

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