Twelve of the candidates for the Haitian Presidency gathered today before the polls had even closed to denounce the widespread fraud that they claimed was happening. The candidates included all of the top candidates with the exception of the one in Preval's party who had been trailing a distant second in the pre-election polls. As I write this entry, there are reports of protests in Port-au-Prince, Gonaives, Cape Haitian, and elsewhere. So what comes next?
It would be wonderful if the reported cases of fraud were untrue--if the stories of stuffed ballot boxes and blocked voters were just exaggerations. There are always logistical problems at elections--we have this problem in the US as well. If it turns out that the actual vote count matches the pre-election polls, then perhaps the twelve candidates over-reacted.
A second possibility is that the fraud happened, but that the Electoral Council and the International Community decide that it was within an acceptable range. A candidate has to get more than 50% to avoid a second round (scheduled for January 16th). If the results show that no candidate won the required 50%, even if Preval's candidate (Jude Celestin) was in first place, then a runoff will have to happen. This might be acceptable to the Haitian political parties, if they could be assured that the runoff would be cleaner. Many would claim that the Celestin only made it to the second round through fraud, but it would hold out the hope that the opposition could still win in the second round. Note that Mme Manigat refused to run in the runoff elections in 2006 because she felt that the first round was too flawed. She might take the same route again.
The worst case would be to have the fraud so blatant that the results would be completely unacceptable--for example if Jude Celestin was declared to have won more than the 50% required to avoid a run-off election. This would force a confrontation and would force the international community to take sides.
The international community trumpeted these elections as an important milestone in Haiti's progress. Instead of providing a clear path forward, the elections have created many more questions and doubt. Haiti desperately needs clear leadership to allow it to rise from the rubble. I hope and pray that somehow this mess ends well.