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Haitian Officials Agree to Review Disputed Election Results

December 9, 2010 at 4:48 PM EST
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A day after supporters of presidential candidate Michel Martelly, angry that the singer would be left out of a run-off election next month, torched the headquarters of Haiti's ruling party, election officials announced they would review the results of the disputed November presidential election. Margaret Warner has more.
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MARGARET WARNER: We turn to Haiti, where disputes over the recent election took another twist today.

The protest fires were still smoldering in the streets of Port-au-Prince when the news came. Election officials announced they would retabulate the results from November’s presidential election, after allegations of sweeping fraud.

The New York Times’ Deborah Sontag is on the ground in the Haitian capital.

DEBORAH SONTAG, The New York Times: They — the statement says they were doing it out of their obligation to hold credible and transparent elections, and given — the statement acknowledged that there was a kind of widespread repudiation of the results that they had announced.

MARGARET WARNER: That repudiation erupted Wednesday when thousands of angry Haitians paralyzed parts of the city. They burned tires and buildings, including the ruling party headquarters, and clashed with local police and U.N. peacekeepers, who fired tear gas in response.

The crowds claimed their candidate, popular singer Michel Martelly, had been cheated out of a spot in the January runoff. Instead, the official results announced Tuesday night had former Haitian first lady Mirlande Manigat and the government-backed candidate, Jude Celestin, as the top first-round vote-getters, with Martelly a close third.

ELOY VELTTY, supporter of Michel Martelly (through translator): This is a shame. The people came out to vote for Michel Martelly. The government is an embarrassment to us. It is not acceptable.

MARGARET WARNER: Last night, Martelly urged supporters to shun violence, and President Rene Preval made a similar appeal.

RENE PREVAL, Haitian president (through translator): Stop damaging public and private buildings. Stop attacking the people. I know we have an electoral crisis, but don’t forget, we also gave a cholera epidemic. And, every day, ambulances must go and pick up the sick people. And those barricades are going to kill more people.

MARGARET WARNER: By today, protesters were still building barricades, but a tense calm prevailed.

DEBORAH SONTAG: The city still feels very ghostly. People are still mostly shut in their homes. But there are pockets of tires set on fire, some shooting. And right around the election board, there are still people protesting and jostling each other and making trouble.

MARGARET WARNER: The November 28 elections were marred by disorganization and claims of ballot stuffing, voter intimidation, and unauthorized voting.

U.N. peacekeepers and outside observers initially said the problems weren’t serious enough to invalidate the vote.

DEBORAH SONTAG: There is a lot of anger directed toward the U.N. troops that are here. And there is a feeling that the election observers that came in from the Organization of American States and the Caribbean community were quick to support the electoral process, despite the serious irregularities.

MARGARET WARNER: The United States has since criticized the results, and, in recent days, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon expressed concern.

The political turmoil comes as Haiti is still struggling to recover from the January earthquake that killed more than 200,000 people, and left one million homeless. And the ongoing cholera outbreak, which began in October, has killed more than 2,000 people. Now there are fears of what may be yet to come.

DEBORAH SONTAG: There is a feeling that Haiti is in a very fragile moment and on the edge, and that it would be extremely easy for one incident to turn things.

MARGARET WARNER: For now at least, the runoff is set for January 16. There was no word today on how long the newly announced review will take.