Port-au-Prince, Haiti – Frustrated voters flooded the streets and several presidential candidates called for the government to annul Sunday’s Haiti election due to problems at polls throughout the country.
Hundreds of voters said they were prohibited from voting because their names did not appear on rolls at the polling places. Angry voters threw rocks and bottles at United Nations peacekeeping forces and shut down polling places.
Twelve of the 19 presidential candidates held an afternoon press conference calling for the vote to be canceled. They accused the Inite party, backed by President Rene Preval, of “massive fraud.”
As polls closed at 4 p.m. peaceful demonstrations clogged the streets of Petionville, a neighborhood in the hills above downtown Port-au-Prince.
“We are not going to stand for an election that is not the will of the people,” says Abner Jean, who could not vote despite holding a valid registration card. His name did not appear on rolls. “If they put in a candidate that we did not choose, we’ll use whatever means necessary to kick them out.”
Confusion Throughout the Country
Observers said problems were reported throughout the country. Many voters who’d been displaced by the earthquake did not know where to vote, resulting in frustration and confusion.
The electoral commission held a press conference urging calm and reassuring the public that the vote was on track.
Representatives for the commission, CEP, said voters tried to use out-of-date cards or were going to the wrong polling places. They urged voters to call a toll-free number or go to the commission’s Web site to find their polling place.
“There are places where bandits shut down polls, shots were fired, and stones were thrown,” said Pierre Opont, director general of the CEP. “But it is only a small percentage of the polling areas and it won’t stop us from voting and getting a valid result.”
Haitians Flood the Streets
By that time, however, Haitians had already taken to Port-au-Prince streets. They rushed to the candidates’ press conference.
Michel Martelly, a popular musician considered one of the leading candidates in a field of 19, said the meeting was held “to denounce today’s massive fraud all over the country.”
Rapper Wyclef Jean appeared moments later with Martelly, who is known as “Sweet Mickey.” The crowd that formed erupted as Jean hugged Martelly.
Song broke out with lyrics like “Oh Mickey, now we’ve been delivered,” and “They gave us cholera, they call it poison,” a reference to the cholera epidemic that has killed more than 1,600 and continues to spread.
Nearby, blue helmeted UN soldiers and Haitian police in riot gear lined street sides.
The crowd followed Martelly and Jean, who were joined by Charles Henry Baker, a white-haired businessman who also complained that the vote was unfair.
It was a raucous end to a voting day that began quietly with teenagers playing soccer on traffic-free streets, using earthquake rubble as goal markers as women and children filtered to church.
Tensions grew as the day unfolded and more people complained they’d been prohibited from voting.
Laurent Yvone, who lives in a camp for people displaced by January’s earthquake, lined up with thousands of early this morning. The polling place for the camp, known as Camp Corail, had just 39 registered names, however.
“There are more than 5,000 people here and the [Interim Electoral Commission] sent us less than 40 names. We don’t have enough ballots,” says the polling place’s supervisor, Elizer Fritznel.
Mr. Fritznel fled before the polls were supposed to close at 4 p.m. Only a handful of voters cast ballots there.
“If we can’t vote, these ballots are not going to leave here,” Mr. Yvone said. “This is corruption.”