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Prospect of Political Chaos Adds to Haiti’s Troubles

November 29, 2010 at 12:00 AM EDT
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Following Sunday's vote in Haiti, 12 of the 18 candidates trying to succeed President Rene Preval called for the results to be discarded after reports of fraud, but electoral officials disputed that there were widespread problems. Jason Beaubien of NPR reports from Port-au-Prince on the frustrations of Haitian voters.
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RAY SUAREZ: For more, we go to Jason Beaubien of NPR News, who joins us from Port-au-Prince.

And, Jason, now that the election is over, what are the international observers and the Organization of American States saying about how it was carried out?

JASON BEAUBIEN, National Public Radio: Well, they just held a press conference. And they basically said, yes, we saw problems. There were issues out there. There were irregularities. There was even some violence.

But they said these allegations of massive fraud, they said the burden is on the candidates who are making these claims that there was massive fraud to prove that. They’re basically throwing the ball back in the court of these candidates and saying, you’re saying that the elections should be annulled. We’re saying they should keep counting the vote, keep moving forward. We didn’t find massive fraud, as you guys are out alleging. And if it’s out there, bring us the proof.

RAY SUAREZ: So, they’re saying that the election, if not perfect, was good enough to result in a government?

JASON BEAUBIEN: They’re saying that it was good enough, that, in this chaotic country that’s still trying to deal with recovering from this massive earthquake, with Port-au-Prince, much of it lying in rubble still, that they did a pretty good job. Yes, there were problems, but they did a pretty good job, and that they should keep moving forward, count these ballots, and keep moving forward with this electoral process.

RAY SUAREZ: Has the president of Haiti, Rene Preval, had anything to say in public yet?

JASON BEAUBIEN: He hasn’t. He’s been incredibly absent from the scene around this — this issue of the elections. You have got — you had 18 candidates running for president. Twelve of them came out and said that they saw massive fraud, called for protests in the streets, said that they wanted the election annulled.

And we haven’t heard anything from the acting leader. And it just plays into the issue of what a power vacuum there is right at the moment. Rene Preval has been a lame duck. It was unclear exactly when his term was actually going to end, given that his term, when — that is clear — but when the new candidate would be chosen, because we were expecting to have a second round anyway. With so many candidates, there was probably going to be a runoff.

Now we have got candidates who could be in the runoff saying that they’re not going to participate in this election. And at the same time, this country so desperately needs leadership to deal with the cholera outbreak that continues to rage across the country and to deal with rebuilding from this incredible earthquake that hit in January.

RAY SUAREZ: Throughout the year, donor nations, the international community at large insisted that it was a good thing for Haiti to go ahead with these elections as promised. Are people down there saying now that they were rushed?

JASON BEAUBIEN: Some people are saying that they were rushed.

But, at the same time, the head of the U.N. said, if not now, then when? When is Haiti not going to be in a state of crisis? This country has lurched from one crisis to another. And, this year, even President Rene Preval said it was the worst year in Haiti’s history.

So, the fear in the international community was that, if you put off these elections, who knows what Haiti is going to be dealing with in three months and, really, how much better prepared would it be three months from now? So, that was the feeling of the international community.

Yes, this is what happened. And the question now is, how are these candidates going to come back together somehow and figure out, how is this country going to choose its next leader?

RAY SUAREZ: When you were out and about, what did you see at polling places? Did it seem orderly?

JASON BEAUBIEN: You know, Haiti is a chaotic country. Every day, Haiti is fairly chaotic. And the polling places reflected that. Yes, they started late. But they only started an hour late. That’s not terrible. And people here say Haitian time.

So, I wasn’t really amazed to see the polls, the voting actually got going an hour late. Yes, there were problems with people not being able to find where they were supposed to vote or not being on the rolls. But, overall, many people were coming in, voting without problems. I didn’t see any violence in the ones that I visited, you know, about half-a-dozen polling places around the capital.

I have seen pictures of some of the other ones that were trashed, but the international community, observers are saying that that was a very small number of the actual polling places that were open on Election Day and that, overall, for Haiti at this moment in time, things went relatively well.

RAY SUAREZ: NPR’s Jason Beaubien in Port-au-Prince, thanks for joining us.

JASON BEAUBIEN: You’re welcome.