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Haiti official alleges manipulation in vote count

Préval's supporters protest in streets

By Andrew Selsky
Associated Press / February 13, 2006

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PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- A member of Haiti's electoral council said results of the presidential elections were being manipulated, echoing complaints by throngs of supporters of René Préval, who poured into the streets yesterday with angry allegations of fraud.

With 75 percent of votes counted, Préval was falling short of winning Tuesday's elections outright by less than a percentage point.

''According to me, there's a certain level of manipulation," Pierre Richard Duchemin, an electoral council member, said, adding that ''there is an effort to stop people from asking questions" about the tabulation process.

Duchemin said yesterday he needed access to tallies of vote counts in hopes of learning who was behind the alleged manipulation. He called for an investigation.

Préval's supporters poured out of neighborhoods of the capital and converged on the electoral council headquarters. Blowing horns and pounding drums, they denounced Jacques Bernard, director general of the nine-member electoral council.

''Jacques Bernard is a thief. He doesn't know how to count!" they chanted. A cordon of police clad in camouflage and carrying rifles and shotguns blocked their path.

Bernard denied accusations the council voided many votes for Préval, a former president.

Suspicion has risen among many Haitians that the results were being manipulated in the five days since voters turned out in droves to elect a new government. It will replace an interim government installed after then-President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was ousted in a bloody rebellion two years ago.

Jean-Henoc Faroul, the president of an electoral district with 400,000 voters northeast of the capital, accused the electoral commission of trying to force a runoff, saying tally sheets from Préval strongholds have vanished.

''The electoral council is trying to do what it can to diminish the percentage of Préval so it goes to a second round," Faroul said.

Faroul said he wanted Préval to win but added that he would be protesting if any candidate was being denied votes by manipulation. ''I am not only the president of an electoral board, but I also vote," Faroul said. ''And I want my vote and the votes of all the people to be respected."

Préval's supporters threatened violence if Préval is not declared the first-round winner. They drove and walked last evening to the upscale Montana hotel, in the Petionville suburb in the hills above Port-au-Prince, to confront election council members. The electoral council abruptly canceled a news conference yesterday evening.

''If they take the election from Préval, it's not going to go smoothly," said Robert Antoine, a 23-year-old from the Bel-Air slum. ''The people voted massively for Préval, and it seems the electoral commission is playing games with the results."

Préval was leading 33 candidates with 49.1 percent of the vote, short of the 50 percent plus one vote he needs to avoid a March 19 runoff with the runner-up. Leslie Manigat, also a former president, was second with 11.7 percent of the vote.