lundi 6 décembre 2010

Ballot inspections under intense scrutiny in Haiti

.Amid rising concerns over mismanagement and possible fraud, the international community is leaning on Haiti's government to ensure there is no finagling with election results.
Voting in Haiti mired in chaos, confusion
PORT-AU-PRINCE -- As Haitians await the preliminary results of last Sunday's chaotic and highly contested elections, there's growing concern that if the results are not considered valid, this already quake-battered country could plunge even deeper into crisis.
To avoid a protracted stalemate, the international community has begun to lean heavily on electoral officials -- even threatening to deny visas to some countries -- if the vote count cannot be trusted, sources said.
``We are interested in results of the election that demonstrably reflect the will of the Haitian people,'' U.S. Ambassador Ken Merten said.
The United States, France and others insist they have no favored candidate among the 17 who ran in the country's most competitive presidential elections in more than two decades. Preliminary results are expected to be released Tuesday.
The international community has said that it will not condone any manipulation of the vote. It has staffed the vote tabulation center with monitors from the United States, Canada and the Organization of American States to help detect fraudulent tally sheets.

Political parties have been told to go through the formal complaint process with lawyers to try and remedy any irregularities.
``For me, everything hinges on the transparency of the work, the effectiveness of the work and the professional manner in which the screening and verification processes at the [vote tabulation center] are going to be carried out,'' said Colin Granderson, the head of the OAS-Caribbean Community electoral observer mission, which had 120 watchers deployed. ``The suspicious [tallies] need to be set aside, properly verified and a decision taken as to whether they are going back into the general pool of results or if they are going to be quarantined.''
Amid accusations that widespread fraud was engineered by President René Préval's INITE (UNITY) coalition, diplomats are scrambling to prevent major violence that could cause Haiti to lose billions in reconstruction aid.
For days, diplomats have been quietly weighing the consequences of several outcomes -- from the public reaction to an outright first-round win by Préval's presidential pick, Jude Célestin to the impact of a second round with any of the three leading presidential candidates to an outright annulment of the vote. Michel Martelly, a popular musician known as Sweet Micky, and former first lady Mirlande Manigat are the other front-runners.
Dueling protests between Préval's supporters and his opponents could spark violent confrontation in a country where frustrations are already high following the devastating January earthquake and a slow reconstruction effort.

Even if authorities manage to prevent violence, there are concerns that Haiti's next president could lack legitimacy and the country, which only recently emerged from a political crisis sparked by disputed 2000 parliamentary elections, could once more face international isolation.
``The principles of democracy are at stake here in Haiti,'' said Edmond Mulet, the head of the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Haiti. ``People went out to vote, they trusted the electoral system. The will, vote and sentiments of the people have to be respected.''
On Friday, members of the country's electoral commission apologized for the breakdown at the polls, saying they plan to make corrections before a second round.
But they said that they were not the only ones to blame, noting that political parties did not do a good job designating poll workers and assigning monitors to bureaus.
The elections council also confirmed what The Miami Herald found in examining election failings, which began well before polls opened Sunday morning. Among the findings:
• In the days before Election Day, many people could not get through to a call center to learn their polling site. The call center was overwhelmed with callers, and certain cell phone users couldn't connect at all.
• The Office of National Identification ignored OAS requests to use text messaging to notify 416,631 people that their new or replaced voter identification cards were ready.
• Some residents with voting cards were told their numbers were invalid; others found that no address was listed for their assigned voting center.
• Forty-three percent of the 1,500 voting centers were destroyed in the earthquake and had to be reassigned. Many of the new sites were too small.
• Some of people sent by the political parties to work at voting stations were either functionally illiterate or paid to tell voters their names were not on the list.
• In a departure from previous elections, residents were not allowed to vote at the polling place of their choosing. Nor were they allowed to vote showing only a receipt indicating they had applied for a voter ID card.
• One million people had been added to the rolls since the last presidential election in 2006, causing a significant number of voters to be moved without notice.
• A campaign to allow camp residents to vote in camp sites fizzled. Result: At Camp Corail, only 39 people out of 6,000-plus residents were on the electoral list, sparking violent clashes on Election Day.

The problems do not add up to a ``nefarious plan to steal the election,'' said Mark Schneider, a longtime Haiti observer with the International Crisis Group. ``They were overwhelmed.''
``Trying to identify new places to vote after the earthquake, trying to re-register 400,000 and get their ID cards with too little time, having to train poll workers right up to the night before the vote...trying to contain cholera the month before the elections -- the pressures were too great and the already weak structure just collapsed in some places,'' he said.
While some saw bureaucratic glitches on Election Day, others saw fraud.
``Everyone expected something to go wrong, be it outright fraud or makeshift handling of the vote leading to voter disenfranchisement. Thus the minute there was any indication of wrongdoing or mismanagement, everyone jumped the gun,'' said Jocelyn McCalla, a political strategist who was in Haiti during the vote.
Said Granderson: ``I've always said the major obstacles to good elections this time around was the total deficit of credibility held by all the political parties in regard to the [electoral council].''
Granderson said the voting went much more smoothly in the provinces and that many of the problems were in the West department, which includes Port-au-Prince and accounts for 40 percent of the vote.
Between 2:30 and 4:30 p.m., Granderson, concerned about the security of international observers, pulled them from polls, a move that has brought criticism and raised questions about the validity of the vote in some areas.
Handy Jean-Louis, an election observer affiliated with a grass-roots organization, said he saw ``a lot'' of voters turned away in the 16 to 17 polling stations he visited in the Port-au-Prince suburb of Carrefour. That, he said, raised suspicion among voters over the election's fairness.
``In a lot of places, people couldn't vote and they thought it was a plot to give power to INITE,'' said Jean-Louis, 27.
At a voting center in Desdunes, a rural town in the Artibonite Valley, a box of presidential votes sat open while observers for Célestin's political party stood by. A poll worker said voters had incorrectly put presidential ballots in boxes for senator and deputy candidates and needed to be put back in the correct ballot box.
The night before, supporters of INITE and of rival candidates clashed before polls opened. Rivals said INITE used intimidation to staff the town's two polls with their supporters -- a claim denied by an INITE monitor.
Noel Laguerre, executive director of the National Council of the Observation of Elections, said he can't verify opposition candidates' assertion of ``massive fraud.'' The group had 5,525 observers assigned at 11,181 polling sites.
Laguerre, however, acknowledges that ``there were many problems.'' At least 22 voting centers never opened, he said. Others closed before 4 p.m.
``People were frustrated -- you saw thousands in the streets, screaming,'' he said.
Miami Herald staff writer Jim Wyss contributed to this report from Miami.
Read more: http://www.miamiherald.com/2010/12/04/v-fullstory/1958005/count-every-ballot-or-else-haiti.html#ixzz17L25o621

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