In the wake of an extended vote count after Haiti’s Feb. 7 election, tens of thousands of supporters of presidential candidate Rene Preval took to the streets in Port-au-Prince and other major cities, accusing the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) of rigging the elections and demanding that Preval be recognized as president.

The CEP, the body in charge of the elections, reported Feb. 14 that Preval, an ally of deposed President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, took 48.76 percent of the vote, with 90 percent of the vote counted. The winning candidate needs 50 percent plus one vote to avoid a run-off. Former President Leslie Manigat polled 13 percent. The rest of the vote was split between 32 other candidates.

However, two members of the nine-member CEP disputed the official tally. Council member Patrick Fequiere complained that Jacques Bernard, the CEP’s director-general, released election results without notifying other members of the body and without disclosing the sources of his information.

Meanwhile, Reuters reported that hundreds and perhaps thousands of ballots were found in a garbage dump in Port-au-Prince, and that a mound of burning ballots was found in another dump.

The CEP’s web site initially reported two contradictory election figures. In one, Preval had 49 percent of the vote, but a computer-generated graphic on the same site gave him 52 percent.

Pierre Richard Duchemin, director of the CEP’s vote tabulation center, told Reuters, “The percent which is given by the graphic is done by the computer according to figures entered by a data operator, and the computer can’t lie.”

“There is an unwholesome manipulation of the data,” he said. “Nothing is transparent.” He called for an investigation.

Several other presidential candidates declared that Preval won the first round of elections. “Christian values prevent me from going along with the dirty tricks and manipulations committed in the counting of votes” said Pastor Chavannes Jeune, who came in fourth.

Kevin Pina, a U.S. journalist and filmmaker, told the World in a telephone interview from Haiti that the CEP prevented many voters in poor neighborhoods that support Preval from voting. In Cite Soleil, for example, voters were asked to walk three to five miles to a polling station. Upon arrival, their names were not on the voter list.

“Some voters therefore gave up,” Pina said. In other poor neighborhoods, such as Grand Ravine and Bel Air, polling stations opened two to four hours late, he said.

In contrast, voters that Pina observed in wealthy neighborhoods had no problem casting their ballots.

Also lowering Preval’s vote tally were the 125,000 ballots that the CEP declared invalid. Pina said many ballots were ruled spoiled because voters wrote an “X” over the photo of the candidate they wanted instead of over a circle next to the photo. “There is a clear preference expressed in those ballots but they are being thrown out on the basis that they are disfigured,” he said.

About 4 percent of the ballots were left blank, a factor that further diluted Preval’s vote count. One anonymous CEP member told a reporter from the Haitian News Agency AHP: “Who believes that thousands of people got up at 3 o’clock in the morning, braving insecurity, running everywhere for hours looking for a voting booth, and then decided to hand in a blank vote?”

Pina noted that the CEP “is solely comprised of rivals to Rene Preval’s party (Platform of Hope). There is not one member representing the Platform of Hope or Lavalas,” the movement associated with Aristide. The CEP is backed by the U.S., Canada, the EU, the OAS and the UN.

At the World goes to press, Preval refused to accept the election results. “We have the conviction that massive fraud has shamed the electoral process,” he told a press conference. He urged his supporters to protest the results peacefully.

Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) said in a Feb. 15 statement, “It is absolutely outrageous that the President Aristide-haters, the anti-Lavalas elites and the U.S. government would so openly and blatantly steal these elections.”

In response to public outrage, CEP officials promised to bring in outside experts to examine the ballot count.