Haiti edged away from political turmoil yesterday as it appeared that the country's general elections - while flawed - would be allowed to stand.
While thousands of Haitians demonstrated in defiance of a decision to move ahead with an election they believe was ridden with fraud, international observers played down any vote-rigging effectively endorsing the vote and neutralizing opposition.
The crowds in the capital did not constitute the critical mass a majority of opposition candidates had hoped for and it appeared the results of Sunday's ballot to elect a new president would stand, with Dec. 7 results likely to identify the two leading candidates for a Jan. 16 runoff.
Many analysts continued to call for the process to be scrapped, calling for a fresh election. Others, wary of the tension-filled streets, were anxious to urge some kind of closure to induce calm.
"I think things will probably just move forward. I don't know if the international community will respond which is what it would take at this point to change course," said Nicole Phillips, a law professor at the University of San Francisco, who was in Port-au-Prince to observe the elections.
On Sunday, 12 opposition candidates banded together to call for an annulment of the vote before it was finished. They accused beleaguered Haitian president René Préval of orchestrating "massive fraud" to rig the election in favour of his heir apparent, Jude Célestin, a technocrat who runs the state's construction agency.
However, yesterday Haiti's Provisional Election Council stood by its initial assessment that the ballot had been a success, saying just 3.5 per cent of the 11,000 polling centres had been marred by fraud.
Its findings were echoed by the Organization of American States and the Caribbean regional block, who sent a team of observers to monitor the election and said the vote could stand.
"The joint mission does not believe that these irregularities, serious though they are, should invalidate the elections," said Colin Granderson, head of the joint organizations.
OAS Secretary-General Albert Ramdin agreed that the vote was valid because the fraud was not widespread.
The rest of the international community, which has been closely watching this election, meanwhile issued cautious statements of concern over potential violence without commenting on the validity of the vote.
In Ottawa, Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon said the most important thing for Haiti now is to restore a sense of calm.
"We're calling upon all of the candidates as well as all of the officials associated with it to be able to restore that level of dialogue that is extremely important in that country, particularly given the fact that they have just gone through tremendous, tremendous difficulties over the last year," he said.
A spokesperson for United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in another statement that the UN leader is concerned following the incidents that marked the first round of elections.
The spokesperson said Mr. Ban looks forward to a solution to the political crisis in the country and has called on the Haitian people and all political actors to remain calm.
In Port-au-Prince, police broke up sporadic demonstrations as Haitians vented leftover frustration over alleged ballot-box stuffing, faulty voter lists and lengthy delays at poll stations.
René Francois, a homeless Haitian who voted for Michel Martelly, a charismatic singer turned presidential candidate, said the Haitian government stole the election. "Préval should leave Haiti. He should be arrested," he said.
Meanwhile the opposition candidates who had banded together on Sunday to call for the cancellation of the election showed signs of breaking ranks.
Mr. Martelly, who was among those to call for an annulment, backtracked yesterday as speculation mounted that he was ahead in the ballot count.
"I want the electoral council, President Préval and the international community to respect the voice of the population," he stressed in a morning news conference.
Meanwhile hip-hop star Wyclef Jean, who was ruled ineligible to run in the presidential election, but still holds enormous sway among the population and came to Haiti to vote, warned of imminent violence if the international community did not intervene.
"I strongly suggest that we bring in a credible international, somebody that has nothing to do with the Haitian government or the UN that can follow the process and make sure that every vote can be counted," Mr. Jean said at a news conference.
"In 24 hours, if a decision is not made, this country will rise to a level of violence we have not seen before," he added.
The Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C., called on the international community to reject the elections, denouncing them as a "farce."
"The international community should reject these elections and affirm support for democratic institutions in Haiti," Mark Weisbrot, the centre's co-director said. "Otherwise, Haiti could be left with a government that is widely seen as illegitimate."
Prof. Phillips, however, predicted without international backing, the protests would fizzle out.
"We should care that we spend so much money electing an undemocratic and unaccountable government that will direct the $10-billion of money towards reconstruction, but that doesn't seem to be the case," she said.
With a report from Campbell Clark in OttawaReport Typo/Error