Alleged fraud in Haiti poll

PORT-AU-PRINCE: Some of Haiti's most powerful lawmakers are calling for last month's parliamentary elections to be thrown out because of allegations of voter fraud and political manipulation.

Sen. Youri Latortue, the powerful head of the chamber's justice and security committee, and at least three other senators said this week that they would try to block victors of next month's run-offs from taking office to protest the results.

It is not clear what effect the lawmakers' protests will have, but fraud allegations could prove troubling in this impoverished Caribbean country where disputed elections have been the precursor to violence and upheaval in recent years.

The long-delayed election to fill 12 vacant spots in the 30-seat Senate was hailed as an important step in Haiti's development as a democracy. But the April 19 first-round voting was marred by low turnout, officially 11 percent, and isolated violence that forced one race to be canceled.

Election officials were also widely criticized for barring all candidates from the major opposition party of exiled former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Lavalas, from running on technical grounds.

Pierre-Louis Opont, general director of the provisional electoral council, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that the second round would likely be postponed from June 7 because of time needed to print and deliver new ballots.

The council is investigating 18 formal complaints from six administrative regions alleging ballot-box stuffing, voter intimidation and other irregularities.

Many of the lawmakers' complaints involve President Rene Preval's governing Lespwa movement _ a loose confederation of mainly left-wing moderates and former Lavalas members whose candidates advanced to run-offs in every possible race so far.

A spate of Lespwa victories in the run-offs would bolster Preval's ability to move constitutional and economic reforms through parliament.

Deputy Steven Benoit, an independent member of the lower house, called for an investigation into whether Lespwa candidate John Joel Joseph used fraud to garner 6,266 votes in his native Cite Soleil slum _ nearly half his total, which more than doubled the second-place candidate.

By contrast, just 44,000 people voted in the entire metropolitan area of 3 million.

The United States, Canada and other donors gave $12.5 million to run the elections, but just 340 international observers monitored 9,400 polling stations in the first round.