Fears of voter fraud ahead of presidential poll in Haiti

HAITIANS faced growing concerns of voter fraud ahead of presidential elections tomorrow as the desperately poor nation gripped by cholera struggles to rebuild after a devastating earthquake.

With the cholera toll soaring past 1,600 and the number of confirmed infections approaching 70,000, candidates cranked up campaigning ahead of tomorrow’s crucial vote for a successor to President Rene Preval.

The head of Haiti’s electoral registry, which signs up eligible voters and is tasked with verifying their IDs on election day, voiced fears widespread fraud could “hijack” poll results.

“I think there will be fraud everywhere,” Philippe Augustin said.

Richard Dumel of the Provisional Electoral Council said he was aware of fraudulent papers in circulation but insisted the election organisers had “the technical means of detecting false ballots and false tally sheets”.

Leading the race to the ruined palace were Jude Celestin, the ruling party candidate backed by Preval, and Mirlande Manigat, a 70-year-old former first lady and academic who leads most opinion polls and could become Haiti’s first female president.

None of the 18 candidates is expected to pass the 50% threshold for outright victory, paving the way for a January 16 run-off. Results of the first round may not be known until December.

The lead-up to the election has been marred by deadly clashes between rival political factions and anti-UN riots in the northern city of Cap-Haitian over the growing cholera outbreak.

UN peacekeeping mission chief Edmond Mulet offered reassurances, telling a press conference that things were “calm, peaceful, serene and without violence” compared to polls in previous years.

“There were two deaths two days ago, there was friction but a lot less than the country saw in the past. There will be blunders, dirty tricks, but there will be less than in the past,” Mulet said.

Haitian officials have ignored calls to delay the vote and a top UN health official said proceeding with the elections was not expected to increase the spread of cholera.

Haiti’s next president faces the daunting task of rebuilding a traumatised nation of 10 million still struggling to recover from the earthquake more than 10 months ago that flattened Port-au-Prince and claimed 250,000 lives.

Some 1.3 million people displaced by the quake still live in tent cities.

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