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Haiti election results could open spigot to billions in aid

With foreign governments and donors hesitant to send funds to President René Préval's administration, a Haiti election was necessary if the country wanted to tap into into billions of dollars in aid.

By Ezra FieserCorrespondent / December 7, 2010

People walk past rubble through smoke from burning trash in downtown Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

Guillermo Arias/AP

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Port-au-Prince, Haiti

James Charles is unemployed, has no job prospects, and lives here in a tent camp. He is hardly the exception.

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He and some 1.3 million others have lived in tents and slapdash shacks since the January earthquake destroyed their homes and businesses.

"Haitians need a president who can help get us out of these camps. We need someone who will clean up the streets," he says. "The people have chosen too many politicians who have not done anything for the people. But now we need someone who will."

IN PICTURES: Haiti elections

Haitians had hoped the Nov. 28 elections would be the first step in finding that leader from a field of 19 presidential candidates while also electing a government that would be considered credible by the international community.

Despite problems, international electoral observers and Haiti's electoral council validated the pivotal vote. Haitians waited impatiently today as results were due to be announced at any time, with some fearing outbreaks of violence no matter what is declared. A runoff for the top two winners is likely to be held Jan. 16.

It's a crucial step forward for Haiti. But the election is putting scrutiny on the effectiveness of holding elections amid turmoil: Should a nation press on with democracy or delay a vote until more conducive conditions arrive?

12 candidates declared fraud

Despite assurances that Haiti was ready to vote, even with cholera spreading and rubble still in the streets, controversies arose. Thousands of confused voters could not find their polling places or their names on rolls. Bandits shut down some electoral centers. And 12 of the 19 candidates – including two of the most popular – took the unusual step of joining on election day to declare fraud and call for a new vote.

"The country absolutely wasn't ready for elections, that's obvious from all the people who couldn't vote, to the irregularities at polling places and the exclusion of political parties," says Mark Weisbrot, codirector of the left-leaning Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, which had election observers in Haiti.

Holding elections too early can do more harm than good, experts say. Afghanistan went forward with a parliamentary vote earlier this year, resulting in thousands of claims of fraud in what analysts called a potential setback for democracy there.

So why did Haiti press on with its vote? It had to, experts say, if it wanted to tap into billions of dollars in aid. Foreign governments and international donors have hesitated to send funds to outgoing President René Préval's administration.

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