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Haiti On Edge Amid Disputed Election Results

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Haiti On Edge Amid Disputed Election Results

Latin America

Haiti On Edge Amid Disputed Election Results

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In Haiti, last month's presidential election has not yet given the country a new leader, but it has produced more political tension. With widespread allegations of fraud, election officials announced a recount of votes cast back on November 28th, yet two of the top three vote-getters say they're refusing to participate. Riots shut down the capital last week.

NPR's Jason Beaubien reports.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Woman: (Foreign language spoken)

JASON BEAUBIEN: The head of the independent media company Radio Metropole in Port-au-Prince, Richard Widmaier, quickly sums up the state of the Haitian presidential selection process.

Mr. RICHARD WIDMAIER (Owner, Radio Metropole): Stuck. We are stuck. We are at an impasse, if I might use this word.

BEAUBIEN: The elections disintegrated into chaos on November 28th when, after the polls had only been open for a few hours, 12 of the 18 presidential candidates called for the voting to be cancelled. The candidates accused the ruling party of rigging the election in favor of its own candidate, Jude Celestin.

Then when the results were finally released, supporters of Michel Martelly barricaded the streets of the capital for three days straight. Martelly came in third in the official results, just behind Celestin, and thus was eliminated from the second round of the race.

Mr. WIDMAIER: Six months ago, nobody ever thought Martelly would have any importance within the electoral process itself.

BEAUBIEN: The 49-year-old musician known as Sweet Micky is now at the center of the political impasse.

Yesterday, Martelly proposed that instead of a runoff on January 16th, as currently mandated by law, Haiti should just redo the entire election. But Martelly says first, the Electoral Council must be replaced.

Mr. MICHEL MARTELLY (Presidential Candidate, Haiti): (Creole spoken)

BEAUBIEN: Speaking in Creole, Martelly said the electoral council should be fired because we don't trust those people anymore. And he added that the council has lost the trust of the Haitian people.

So far, President Rene Preval has stood by his election officials and hasn't made any indications that he'll appoint any new ones.

(Soundbite of crowd chatter)

BEAUBIEN: Last week's raging protests left at least two people dead, dozens injured and the streets littered with burned tires. Almost all shops and businesses were closed for three days. The capital remains on edge, with many people asking not if the riots will resume, but rather when.

President Rene Preval has defended the election results and called for calm.

Unidentified Group: (Singing in foreign language)

BEAUBIEN: This Sunday, during mass at the Catholic Christ the King Church, Pastor Richard Gerard denounced the violent demonstrations. Preaching in the shell of a grand church that was destroyed in the January earthquake, Father Gerard said Jesus never rioted in the streets.

Father RICHARD GERARD (Pastor, Catholic Christ the King Church): (Through translator) How can we say that we are childrens of God, that we have been created in his image, while acting like animals of the forest?

BEAUBIEN: This week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the U.S. is frustrated with the Haitian government over the elections. She warned that Congress may cut international aid to the Preval regime if it fails to ensure the credibility of the polls.

In Haiti, allegations of fraud and criticism of the balloting can be heard across the social spectrum, from vendors in the streets, all the way up to top business leaders.

Mr. REGINALD BOULOS (Haitian Chamber of Commerce): You know, the Haitian people, that's all they have as their weapon. They don't have economic power. They don't have social power. They have their ballot.

BEAUBIEN: Reginald Boulos is the head of the Haitian Chamber of Commerce. Boulos says exit polls done by the chamber clearly showed that Martelly, rather than the ruling party's Celestin, should have made it into the runoff. Boulos says he's saddened that in the aftermath of the earthquake, Haiti is now also dealing with this political crisis.

Mr. BOULOS: We were expecting that everybody, including our government, would remember that 300,000 people died 10 months ago, would remember that one million people are still living under tents, and not do what we are seeing right again, trying to steal elections and not letting the people choose who they want as their leaders for the next five years.

BEAUBIEN: He says the next president is going to have to make some extremely difficult decisions about how to rebuild the country. Boulos says it's more important than ever that that person has the support of the Haitian people. But right now, it's unclear how the next president is going to be chosen.

Jason Beaubien, NPR News, Port-au-Prince.

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