Feb 16, 2006
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Feb. 16 � The front-runner in last week’s presidential election, Ren� Pr�val, was declared the winner today as part of an agreement by leaders of Haiti’s interim government to re-tabulate the votes.
This morning, the Provisional Electoral Council announced the victory, which was followed by celebrations and demonstrations in front of the national palace. The agreement is a result of negotiations by Mr. Pr�val, government officials, foreign diplomats and international observers, including the Organization of American States.
A high-ranking official from the Organization of American States, who insisted on anonymity because of the fragile nature of the agreement, said on Wednesday night that loopholes in Haitian electoral law allow the government to discard an estimated 85,000 blank ballots included in the original tally. By excluding them, Mr. Pr�val’s lead would increase from 48.7 percent of the votes to slightly more than 51 percent.
Under election rules, the winner needs 50 percent plus one vote to avoid a run-off.
An adviser to Mr. Pr�val, who confirmed the agreement, said on Wednesday that electoral authorities had indicated they began recovering a large number of missing ballots that were believed destroyed or stolen, and that those ballots, estimated at 8 percent of all ballots cast, were overwhelmingly in Mr. Pr�val’s favor.
Mr. Pr�val, 63, an agronomist, previously served as president from 1996 to 2001.
“Considering the fact that the remaining tally sheets will not influence the outcome of the result, Ren� Pr�val has been declared president of the republic,” said the president of the electoral council, Max Mathurin.
A former Senator, Prince Pierre Sonson, said in response: “The entire political class should give their support to Ren� Pr�val. We must work for a society without exclusions.”
The agreement was forged after marathon negotiations among leaders of Mr. Pr�val’s Lespwa Party, the interim government, the Provisional Electoral Council, the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti, the O.A.S. and ambassadors from the United States, France, Canada, Brazil and Chile. The talks started Monday, after early tallies indicated Mr. Pr�val would not win enough votes to avoid a runoff, and his supporters paralyzed cities across the country with protests and flaming barricades.
Mr. Pr�val, who had been waiting for election results in his hometown, Marmelade, was rushed back to the capital on a United Nations helicopter Monday afternoon. On Tuesday morning, he delivered an address to the nation, charging that the tabulation had been rigged against him and demanding that final results be withheld pending a review.
“This is a political solution to a political problem that was necessary because of the widespread fraud that threatened to undermine the election and the will of the people.”
Fritz Jean, a supporter to Mr. Preval and former president of the Central Bank, “This is a political solution to a political problem that was necessary because of the widespread fraud that threatened to undermine the election and the will of the people.” “Those blank votes go beyond logical explanation,” he said. “To believe that people walked hours to vote, and then waited in line for hours to cast blank ballots, it defies logic.”
Voicing the sentiments of many people worries about the precarious state of Haiti’s government, he added: “The country could not have withstood the pressure of waiting for a second round. We need to move as quickly as possible to reconciliation.”
Others, speaking before the agreement, saw it differently.
“All the efforts we made for a democratic transition could be lost,” said a human rights advocate, Jean-Claude Bajeux�. “We are going right back to where we have always been where the crowds on the street, not elections, have the last say. We are close to losing an historic opportunity.”
The deal was worked out as allegations of irregularities grew.
On Tuesday night, dozens of boxes containing thousands of ballots were found in a dump a few miles north of the capital.
Many of the ballots had not been marked. Some, though, had been marked for Mr. Pr�val, leading organizers of his campaign to suggest they were proof of an effort to steal victory from their candidate.
Opponents of Mr. Pr�val, along with several international election observers, wondered though whether his campaign workers had planted the boxes of ballots. They said it might be part of an effort to incite the crowds of Pr�val supporters whose protests in recent days have paralyzed cities across Haiti, using bullying to put him in power.
Whether the ballots were dumped or planted, the discovery added to questions here and abroad about the credibility of elections considered crucial to setting Haiti back on the road to democracy.
Unimaginable! Unbelievable!” said Charles-Poisset Romain, a sociology professor and university rector who was one of the 33 candidates in last week’s presidential race, referring to the discovery at the dump in an address on national radio. “A speedy investigation must be conducted.”
But Mr. Pr�val’s accusations of fraud halted the tabulation of votes before it was finished.
Furthermore, though the Provisional Electoral Council vowed there had been no manipulation or serious irregularities, the discovery at Trutier struck a blow to the confidence in the election and to the peace it had brought to this troubled nation.
John Manes, a lanky 30-year-old standing near the dump on Wednesday in a Pr�val T-shirt and cap, said he had seen trucks entering the area the day after the elections.
“Now they have to give Pr�val the power,” he said, “because we have solid evidence they stole our votes.”
A 20-year-old man, who gave his name as Artiste Belecan, said, “It’s a terrible situation when people vote and then see their ballots for Pr�val discarded.”
Cilius Apolon, 33, walked over the discarded ballots on Wednesday, saying: “I got up very early in the morning to vote last week. This shows disrespect for the Haitian people.”
International electoral officials said an estimated 8 percent of the ballots cast were missing, at least half of them believed to be stolen or destroyed. Another 7 percent were voided because they were illegible.
But most of the challenges to the vote tally have focused on the estimated 85,000 blank ballots, about 4 percent of the 2.2 million votes cast.
According to Haitian electoral law, blank ballots are counted as part of the total number of votes. If they were not counted, electoral officials report, Mr. Pr�val would probably win more than 51 percent of the completed votes.
International electoral officials acknowledged that poll workers could have improperly recorded unused ballots as blank ballots. In at least two polling places, said one such official, nearly 100 percent of the ballots were recorded as blank.
But the international officials also said they suspected some cases of fraud, saying they found it had hard to believe that peasant farmers in rural areas would walk for hours, then stand in line for hours, to cast blank ballots.
Brazil led a push by Latin American diplomats on Wednesday to discard the blank ballots and declare Mr. Pr�val president, diplomats said.
In Bras�lia, the chief foreign relations adviser to President Luiz In�cio Lula da Silva told reporters, “Considering the existing climate in the country, that would be the best solution.”
In Port-au-Prince, the Chilean ambassador, Marcel Young, agreed.
“Pr�val is the winner,” Mr. Young said. “The blank votes create an artificial result. Now it is up to Haiti to make a decision. But this is not just a legal question. It’s a political question. They must make a decision for the good of the country.”