A flyblown garbage dump is at center of Haiti election controversy | VailDaily.com

A flyblown garbage dump is at center of Haiti election controversy

Daily Staff Report

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – A stinking, flyblown garbage dump, more than two miles down a pitted dirt road from a highway, lies at the center of the controversy over Haiti’s presidential election.Thousands of ballots, official electoral bags and other materials from the Feb. 7 elections have been found in the dump north of the capital.Some officials said the ballots may have been left there by someone seeking to discredit the elections aimed at installing a new government in the wake of a bloody rebellion that toppled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in February 2004.But supporters of Rene Preval, who have taken to the streets to protest alleged fraud they say is denying their candidate a first-round victory, claim the dumped election materials is evidence. The discovery of the dumped ballots fueled the protests after they were first announced on Haitian TV Tuesday night.The U.N. mission in Haiti said in a statement late Wednesday it “urges the Haitian authorities to investigate fully and prosecute anyone found guilty of this apparent grave breach of the electoral process.”The interim government said an investigation has been launched.”We are looking closely at specimens of the ballots found at the dump, to check whether these are real ballots,” said Michel Brunache, chief of staff to interim President Boniface Alexandre.With 90 percent of the returns counted, Preval – an agronomist and former president – was just short of the majority needed for a first-round victory. He claimed Tuesday that “massive fraud or gross errors” had been committed and vowed to challenge the results if officials insist on holding a March runoff.With furor over the election mounting, Haiti’s interim government and electoral council were considering a plan late Wednesday to declare Preval the winner by subtracting blank votes from the total count, officials close to the talks said.The plan centers on the some 85,000 blank votes cast, or 4 percent of the estimated 2.2 million ballots, a member of the interim government and a diplomat said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the discussions.Preval would attain a majority if the blank ballots were subtracted from the total number of votes counted.Another scenario being discussed calls for dividing the blank votes proportionately among the 33 candidates based on the number of votes they received, the diplomat said. Preval would also win under this scenario.The diplomat said one obstacle to the plan could be a Haitian electoral decree that allows for blank votes to be counted. The legality of the plan was being discussed by the officials.Associated Press journalists saw thousands of ballots, some marked for Preval, deep in the dump Wednesday, along with a vote tally sheet and four bags meant to carry returns from the elections. Three of the bags were signed by presidents of local election bureaus.The discovery troubled U.N. officials because the bags were not supposed to be thrown out.”They’re supposed to be kept,” U.N. official Catherine Sung, an electoral adviser who works at the main vote tabulation center, told the AP.Shown photographs of the signed bags, Sung said they were meant to contain annulled and blank votes. The journalists also saw a green tally sheet of votes, but U.N. officials said that was not important because it was a copy of the original given to political party representatives.Preval backers said election officials were attempting to annul votes for him to force a runoff. If some of the annulled ballots and the corresponding bags have been discarded, it could skew any possible recount.Asked if it was important the bags be retained and not thrown out, Sung said: “Yes, of course.”U.N. police were dispatched to retrieve what they could from the site after hundreds of people carried away some of the election materials, strewn over at least two acres deep in the smoldering dump.Jean-Ricot Guerrier, who lives near the site, said the stuff was dropped off by a truck the day after the election and that someone tried to burn the material before rainfall put out the fire. Impoverished children picking through the garbage found the ballots, he said.At the dump, Cilius Apolon, 33, walked over the discarded ballots and past smashed white plastic ballot boxes.”I got up very early in the morning to vote last week,” Apolon said. “This shows disrespect for the Haitian people.”A popularly elected government with a clear mandate is seen as crucial to avoiding a political and economic meltdown in the Western Hemisphere’s poorest nation. Gangs have gone on kidnapping sprees and factories have closed for lack of security.Some 7,300 U.N. troops and 1,750 international police are in the country under Brazilian command, helping maintain order. The U.N. mission replaced a U.S.-led force that arrived after an uprisingPreval urged his followers Tuesday to continue protesting nonviolently. Scattered demonstrations occurred Wednesday in Port-au-Prince, with protesters waving Haitian flags and Preval posters.Haiti’s interim government ordered the count suspended with 90 percent of the votes tallied, pending a review of vote tally sheets by an investigative commission. But Max Mathurin, the electoral council president, said Wednesday that election workers were ignoring the government order and continuing to tabulate results.”The government and the established commission can’t under any circumstances ask or order the cancellation of the operations,” Mathurin told Radio Metropole. Workers have completed 92 percent of the vote count, he added, while refusing to release any more information. “When everything is ready, we’re going to publish the official results,” he said.The electoral council’s latest published results show Preval with 48.76 percent of the vote with 90 percent of ballots counted. In second place was Leslie Manigat, also a former president, with 11.8 percent. Vail, Colorado

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