Haiti election remains under cloud

The international community has stopped short of declaring that the results of Haiti's elections on the weekend were invalid, despite growing calls for such a move within the country.
Two women walk in downtown Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on Monday. ((Guillermo Arias/Associated Press))

The international community has stopped short of declaring that Haiti's elections on the weekend were invalid, despite growing calls for such a move within the country.

Images of voters stuffing ballot boxes, and marked ballots being thrown into the air, appeared to confirm allegations of widespread electoral fraud, observers said.


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Haiti wrapped up its Sunday elections in discord while official results were not likely until Dec. 7 and runoffs were expected for the presidential post and nearly all senatorial and parliamentary races.

However, the Organization of American States said it doesn't believe the election was necessarily invalid, even though there were irregularities.

Tense drive for CBC crew

Tension was high in Haiti Tuesday after a post-earthquake election that saw fraud and confusion at the ballot boxes.

North of the capital, Port-au-Prince, CBC's Connie Watson and I witnessed it firsthand. Out in the agricultural community of Kabare, we were gathering interviews on a micro-finance piece when our driver rushed over, telling us we needed to leave fast because the situation in town was heating up.

At a bridge on National Highway 1 leading out of town, we saw a roadblock. A white semi truck with "What the world needs is Jesus" written on it was parked diagonally across the road.

Claudy, our driver, approached, following the slow-moving traffic going past the truck, across the bridge and past the second truck on the other side. In the middle of the bridge stood a metal sign covered with posters of presidential candidate and kompa singer Michel Martelly. A bunch of tires strung together on a stick lay on the ground to the side.

Suddenly, while we were at a standstill in the middle of the roadblock — the worst place to be — shots rang out. More than 10 shots were fired.

Claudy leaned on the horn, urging the driver ahead of us to keep driving to pass the second truck blocking the road. The driver moved slowly, seemingly worried about scratching up his vehicle as he squeezed through the small space between the truck and hydro pole. Claudy aggressively pushed his white SUV through and soon we were away.

As we rode back to Port-au-Prince, a radio announcer said the trouble in Karabe was a protest against the electoral commission. It took place in that town because the vice-president apparently has an office there.

- Amber Hildebrandt, correspondent in Haiti

Haiti is Canada's main foreign priority after Afghanistan and there is serious criticism about this country's response to Haiti's election problems. Canada spent $6 million on Haiti's election as part of its efforts to build up that country's democratic institutions.

Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon said the reports of election irregularities need to be addressed. "It's extremely important to be able to restore calm in that country. We're calling upon all of the candidates and the officials involved to restore that," he said.

But Cannon would not comment on whether the official results can be trusted. 

Liberals cautious

The Liberal Party is also being cautious about an election that appears riddled with fraud. Liberal foreign affairs critic Bob Rae said Canada needs to act in concert with the other international partners.

"Obviously, it's not a perfect process," Rae said. "There are a lot of vast human difficulties in Haiti and there are serious political issues there."

Cannon said Canada will continue to work with the current and any successor government in Haiti to help it rebuild. He wouldn't comment on whether that means Canada will recognize Haiti's next government regardless of how it was elected.

This is in marked contrast to calls within Haiti for the election results to be annulled and a new election held.

Haiti is still reeling from January's massive earthquake, as well as trying to cope with a cholera outbreak. With that in mind, Canada should have seen the election problems coming, said Nicole Phillips, a lawyer with the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti.

"The international community has had a huge influence on these elections and I'm hoping will call for new elections so Haitians can actually have the fair right to vote," she said.

Other monitors have said it's clear there were serious irregularities and that perhaps a new election should be held. Meanwhile, others don't believe a new vote is necessary yet but are calling for an investigation at least.

The chaotic way in which Sunday's voting unfolded has united most of the top presidential candidates against current President René Préval's preferred successor — Jude Celestin, head of a state-run construction company and beneficiary of a well-financed campaign.

Twelve of the 18 presidential candidates — including nearly every major contender — gathered in a hotel ballroom on Monday to denounce Preval and call for a new election.

Obstacles hindering cholera response

On the cholera front, the WHO said Tuesday the number of reported cases of cholera in Haiti has risen to just over 72,000, including 1,648 deaths.

Fewer deaths are now being recorded than earlier in the epidemic, which erupted in late October. The mortality rate now stands at 2.3 per cent, Fadela Chaib, spokesperson for the UN health agency, told reporters in Geneva.

There are now 40 cholera treatment centres and 61 cholera treatments units — small sites established in hospitals and health centres — in the country.

Ten more centres and 39 cholera treatments units are required, as well as 350 more doctors, 2,000 nurses, 2,200 support staff and 30,000 community health workers, Chaib said. The community health workers would mostly work in rural villages, where needs are greatest, she said.

Meanwhile, a survey by Haiti’s Ministry of Public Health and Population of 37 aid groups has identified key challenges hindering the cholera response. These include insufficient removal of dead bodies and disposal of medical waste; a shortage of sites where to set up health centres; and a lack of trained personnel.

About $32.9 million US of the $164 million US humanitarian agencies are seeking for the cholera emergency has been received to date.