On Feb. 16 Haiti’s Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) declared former president Rene Garcia Preval (1996-2001) the winner of the Feb. 7 presidential election. The declaration followed an agreement the night before that the CEP would leave some of the 85,000 blank ballots (almost 4% of the total 2.2 million ballots casts) out of the official count; this would automatically change Preval’s total from 48.76% to 51.15%, eliminating any need for a runoff with second-place candidate Leslie Manigat, who trailed badly with less than 12%. Preval, formerly a close associate of ousted president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, was the candidate of the Lespwa (“Hope”) coalition. Manigat, who was president briefly in 1988, ran for the Coalition of Democratic National Progressives (RDNP).
The agreement to reject the blank ballots resulted from consultations with national political forces and with foreign countries, including Canada, France and the US. Brazil, which leads the 9,000-member United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), reportedly pressed hard for a solution that would avoid a second round in the presidential race. (AlterPresse, Feb. 18; Haiti Support Group News Briefs, Feb. 16 from AP; New York Times, Feb. 16; Radio France Internationale, Feb. 16)
The decision came after several days of demonstrations by Preval supporters and growing evidence of vote manipulation as Preval’s total fell from more than 60% to below 50%. At a Feb. 13 demonstration calling for Preval to be declared a winner, a youth was shot dead; witnesses blamed MINUSTAH soldiers, while the United Nations denied any involvement. (NYT. Feb. 13 from AP; Batay Ouvriye, Feb. 13)
Preval’s advisers and international observers noted that the number of blank and invalid ballots was unusually high. A sample of the results by the National Democratic Institute (NDI), an affiliate of the US National Endowment for Democracy (NED), gave Preval 52-54%, while a ballot survey by the Organization of American States (OAS) predicted that Preval would win with about 55%. On Feb. 14 thousands of ballots, many marked for Preval, were found in a trash dump in the Truitier district on the north side of Port-au-Prince. An unnamed community leader said residents had seen unfamiliar garbage trucks pulling up to the dump since Feb. 9 but hadn’t thought anything of it. (HSG, Feb. 14 from Reuters, Feb. 15 from EFE)
On Feb. 15, thousands of ballots were brought to the CEP tabulation center in Port-au-Prince, apparently from polling places at Sainte Trinite school, the Carrefour-Feuilles high school and in the third communal section Abricots in the country’s Southwest department. There was no official explanation for the delay in delivering the votes. Also on Feb. 15, more than 100,000 Preval supporters demonstrated in front of the National Palace in Port-au-Prince, according to Agence Haitienne de Presse (AHP). (AHP, Feb. 15; HSG, Feb. 15 from AHP)
At a congressional budget hearing on Feb. 16, US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice hailed the announcement that Preval would be president. “We are going to work with the Preval government,” she said. “We want this government to succeed.” (HSG, Feb. 16 from NYT)
Ricardo Alarcon, president of the Cuban National Assembly, expressed similar sentiments on Feb. 16, noting that Cuba and Haiti had good relations during Preval’s earlier term. Haiti needs less troops and more international aid for health and education, he told the Cuban news agency Prensa Latina. Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez Frias congratulated Preval in a telephone conversation on Feb. 17, according to a Venezuelan government press release. Chavez told Preval he planned to visit Jacmel in southeastern Haiti on Mar. 12 to mark the 200th anniversary of Venezuelan independence hero Francisco de Miranda’s arrival there. He also said he was taking steps for Haiti to enter Petrocaribe, a Caribbean oil initiative promoted by Venezuela. (HSG, Feb. 17 from El Universal; AlterPresse, Feb. 18)
As of Feb. 17 the CEP had still not announced results in the legislative elections. Preval’s position in Parliament is likely to be weak; his coalition only ran candidates for 19 of the 30 seats in the Senate and for 58 of the 99 seats in the Chamber of Deputies. (HSG, Feb. 17 from Reuters)
From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Feb. 19
Note that the protests coincided with US military operations in the neighboring Dominican Republic.
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