Image: Crushed voting boxes and slips lay on th
Hector Retamal  /  AFP - Getty Images
Crushed voting boxes and slips lay on the ground after unknown assailants ransacked the Ecole Nationale polling station in Tabarre, north of Port-au-Prince, on Nov. 28.
updated 11/28/2010 11:10:55 PM ET 2010-11-29T04:10:55

Haiti's election ended in discord Sunday, with nearly all the major presidential candidates calling for the vote to be voided over fraud and U.N. peacekeepers lamenting "numerous incidents that marred the elections."

Sunday evening found crowds surging through the streets carrying tree branches and campaign posters, some protesting problems with the balloting but most jubilantly claiming victory for their candidates.

Twelve of the 19 candidates for president endorsed a joint statement denouncing the voting as fraudulent and calling on their supporters to show their anger with demonstrations against the government and the country's Provisional Electoral Council, known as the CEP.

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"It is clear that the government of Rene Preval, in agreement with the CEP, is putting into execution the plan hatched to tamper with the elections ... with the help of the official political party and its candidate, Jude Celestin," independent candidate Anne Marie Josette Bijou read as nearly every other candidate nodded in agreement.

The statement included all of the major contenders but one: Jude Celestin, who is backed by the Unity party of President Rene Preval.

Preval twice sailed into office with the backing of ousted former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide's supporters, but was branded a traitor for not returning his predecessor from exile. Frustrations grew as Haiti's economy remained one of the world's worst. When the laconic leader disappeared from sight following the Jan. 12 earthquake, frustration boiled into anger.

Until tapped as a candidate by Preval, Celestin was the little-known head of the state-run construction company whose dump trucks carted many of the quake's estimated 300,000 dead to mass graves. His well-funded campaign, the first under Preval's newly created party, included airplanes trailing banners with his name and dropping leaflets that fluttered like yellow-and-green birds over tent camps for the quake homeless.

A text message sent to Haitian cell phones Saturday summed up the primary message of Celestin's campaign: "Let's assure stability." His campaign workers already referred to him as "The President."

Slideshow: Cholera outbreak in Haiti (on this page)

But support for the other candidates was far more passionate. Some opinion polls put Mirlande Manigat, 70-year-old former first lady whose husband was helped to power and then deposed by a military junta, as the likely winner. Michel "Sweet Micky" Martelly, known for jazzy, sarcastic dance music, had thousands of urban youths toting his pink signs and shouting to "Vote for the bald head!"

In other races, ninety-six contenders were competing for 11 Senate seats and more than 800 others were seeking to fill the 99-seat lower house.

But the day was thrown into chaos around 2 p.m. when nearly the entire presidential ballot took the stage in the ballroom of an upscale hotel to roars from their followers. Individual cheers melded into a single chant of "Haiti! Haiti!" before the crowd burst into Haiti's national anthem.

The statement called on people to protest, concluding that the fraud was a ploy by "the corrupt government of Preval" to "perpetuate his power and keep the people hostage to continue their misery."

The crowd errupted in cheers and chanted "Arrest Preval!" as the rival candidates joined hands and raised their arms in triumph.

Demonstrators were already in the streets, some outside the gates of the hotel, as body-armored U.N. peacekeepers and Haitian police moved out in trucks and a U.N. helicopter circled the election headquarters.

Thousands continued protesting peacefully into the night, some throwing rocks at police who fired back tear gas. People danced through the major cities of Port-au-Prince and Cap-Haitien, carrying posters of their candidates and chanting their names, most celebrating Martelly, the popular musician.

The electoral council never suspended voting, though the presence of protesters on the street from early afternoon likely affected turnout in the capital. In an evening news conference, the council praised the day's voting and denounced the candidates' protest, saying after repeated questioning from local media that the challenge was not a legal document.

"The CEP cannot accept things that are not formal and are not legal," said council official Pierre Louis Opont.

The officials said there had only been irregularities at 56 voting centers and said they would investigate them, but made it clear that the balloting would stand.

Swiping back at the challengers, Opont added: "If they declare that one of these candidates won, are they going to say they don't want to be elected?"

Preliminary results were not expected until Dec. 7, and all but the most confident supporters of individual candidates expected to see a run-off for races at all levels.

The international community expressed serious concern.

Representatives of the major international donors, including the ambassadors of the U.S., Canada, France and the European Union, met after the candidates declaration to discuss the situation, said Organization of American States Assistant Secretary-General Albert Ramdin, who is in Haiti to monitor the elections.

"We are all concerned about the possibility of violence because we don't want to see people lose lives in a process that should be democratic," Ramdin said.

The United Nations said that it "and the international community expressed their deep concern at the numerous incidents that marred the elections." The chief OAS/Caribbean Community observer, Colin Granderson, added that observers were "in the process of evaluating and analyzing the information gathered on the conduct of the vote."

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Even before their reports are issued, the united front of so many presidential candidates cast serious doubt on the legitimacy of the election, the first since the quake killed hundreds of thousands, destroyed much of the capital and sent the moribund economy into a tailspin.

Tensions are already high following a series of deadly clashes earlier this month between U.N. peacekeepers and demonstrators who suspected them of bringing a rapidly spreading cholera outbreak.

Voters throughout the country showed up at polling stations only to find them closed hours after their scheduled opening, or to be turned away because their names were not on lists. Even Celestin was initially turned away.

There were also sporadic reports of violence and intimidation, as well as a ballot box being stolen and its contents strewn about in the capital's Cite Soleil slum.

In the town of Grande Riu Du Nord, about 12 miles (20 kilometers) east of Cap-Haitien, youths sacked a polling station and scattered thousands of ballots. Photos obtained by the AP showed that some of the ballots apparently had been filled out. More were burned in a road. The motives in the attack were unknown.

Voter rolls were filled with the dead, and many living citizens were struggling to figure out if and where they could vote.

Observers from dozens of parties crowded voting areas and furious voters were turned away from stations where poll workers could not find their names on lists.

"I don't know if I'm going to come back later. If I come back later it might not be safe. That's why people vote early," said Ricardo Magloire, a Cap Haitien radio journalist whose polling station at a school was still not taking ballots after people had waited more than an hour.

At another voting place in the St. Philomene neighborhood, a woman complained that young men were taking advantage of the chaos to vote multiple times. The allegation could not be confirmed because a crowd of one candidate's supporters swarmed around two AP journalists and forced them to leave the area, threatening a photographer.

One man was shot to death at a polling place in rural Artibonite, Radio Vision 2000 reported, though no details were available.

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The victor in all this gets a five-year term at the helm of a disastrous economy and leadership of an increasingly angry and suffering population worn down by decades of poverty, the earthquake, a recent hurricane and now a cholera epidemic that has killed more than 1,600 people.

Yet there is an unprecedented opportunity: the new president will oversee the largest capital spending spree in Haiti's history, the $10 billion pledged in foreign reconstruction aid after the quake. Very little of the money has been delivered so far, as many donor nations are waiting to see who will take over the government.

Donors also want to see if how the election goes off.

Associated Press writers Jonathan M. Katz reported this story in Port-au-Prince and Ben Fox in Cap-Haitien. AP writer Jacob Kushner in Port-au-Prince also contributed to this report.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Photos: Cholera outbreak in Haiti

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  1. A girl with cholera symptoms rests in a local hospital in Limbe village near Cap Haitien, Haiti, Nov. 23. Haiti will hold elections on Nov. 28 in the midst of a month-old cholera epidemic that has killed at least 1,300 people and hospitalized thousands. (Emilio Morenatti / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. A resident holds packets of water to sell in downtown Port-au-Prince, Nov. 23. Aid supplies to combat Haiti's deadly cholera epidemic are flowing again into the country's northern regions after protests by Haitians blaming U.N. troops for the outbreak, humanitarian groups said on Sunday. (Eduardo Munoz / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Claudy Bien-Aime, who is suffering from symptoms of cholera, is driven to a treatment facility run by Doctors without Borders, Nov. 23, in Port-au-Prince. Doctors say cholera is caused by poor sanitary conditions that make the bacteria easy to transmit through contaminated water or food. (Joe Raedle / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. People suffering cholera symptoms are treated in a sports center converted into a cholera treatment center in Cap Haitien, Haiti, Nov. 23. (Emilio Morenatti / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Pan American Health Organization Deputy Director Jon Andrus speaks during a press briefing on the Haitian cholera outbreak at the organization's headquarters in Washington, DC, Nov. 23. Haitian health officials said at least 1,344 people have died from a worsening cholera epidemic that has ravaged the country since mid-October. (Jim Watson / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. A resident carries eggs while he walks past a refuse-clogged canal in downtown Port-au-Prince, Nov. 23. (Eduardo Munoz / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. A health worker is disinfected on Nov. 22 in Port-au-Prince. The city is seen as being particularly at risk for widespread infection because of the crowded and unsanitary conditions endured by tens of thousands of people who have been sheltering in squalid, makeshift tent cities since an earthquake last January. (Hector Retamal / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. A girl suffering cholera symptoms waits for treatment at a sports center that has been converted into a cholera treatment center in Cap Haitien, Haiti, Nov. 23, 2010. (Emilio Morenatti / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. The body of Ana Luis Goerges, 75, who died of cholera, lies wrapped in a sheet as she is taken to the morgue from a local hospital in Limbe village near Cap Haitien, Haiti, Tuesday Nov. 23. (Emilio Morenatti / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. A woman suffering from cholera rests at Ste. Therese hospital in Hinche on Nov. 20. Four Haitian presidential candidates called for a delay in elections set for Nov. 28 as the country struggles with a cholera epidemic that has claimed nearly 1,300 lives. (Hector Retamal / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Cemetery workers dug a pit to bury the body of a cholera victim Cap Haitian, Haiti, on Nov. 20. Thousands of people have been hospitalized for cholera across Haiti with symptoms including diarrhea, vomiting and fever. At least another 1,100 people have died. (Dieu Nalio Chery / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. A relative of Stephanie Sanbronce, 17, who died of cholera, reacts as workers of Haiti's Health Ministry, unseen, remove her body from her house in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on Nov. 20. (Emilio Morenatti / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. A Haitian girl with cholera symptoms is doused with water as she grimaces at an improvised clinic run by Doctor without Borders in Port-au-Prince on Nov. 20. (Eduardo Munoz / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. A worker from the Red Cross burns medical supplies used to control cholera next to a clinic in Port-au-Prince on Nov. 20. (Eduardo Munoz / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. A worker of Haiti's Health Ministry throws a glove into a mass grave where bodies of victims of the cholera outbreak will be buried on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on Nov. 20. (Emilio Morenatti / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. A woman suffering from symptoms of cholera is helped after arriving at a health clinic in the Cite-Soli neighborhood of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on Nov. 19. A cholera epidemic has killed more than 1,100 people in recent weeks. (Joe Raedle / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Fifteen-month-old twins with cholera are held by their mother and sister as they receive intravenous therapy at a cholera clinic set up by Medecins sans Frontieres in the Tabarre neighborhood of Port-au-Prince, Nov. 19. (Allison Shelley / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. A UN peacekeeper from Brazil shoots tear gas to demonstrators during a protest in Port-au-Prince, Nov. 18. (Ramon Espinosa / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. A group of protesters burn a political campaign banner of presidencial candidate Judes Celestin, during protests against the United Nations peacekeepers in Haiti, Nov. 18. (Andres Martinez Casares / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. A boy suffering cholera symptoms is carried in a wheelbarrow to the St. Catherine hospital, run by Doctors Without Borders, in the slum of Cite Soleil in Port-au-Prince, on Nov. 18. (Emilio Morenatti / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. A man sells water in the street next to the St. Catherine hospital in the slum of Cite Soleil. Cholera is spread by contaminated water and food. (Emilio Morenatti / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Members of a Haitian Ministry of Health team unload some of the 14 bodies collected in Titanyen, the site of a mass grave for earthquake victims, on Nov.17 in Port-au-Prince. The bodies were collected from homes, streets and a hospital and ended up at the Titanyen site. (Joe Raedle / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. People hold their noses from the stench of dead bodies as members of a Haitian Ministry of Health body-collection team takes away a victim of the cholera epidemic in Port-au-Prince. (Joe Raedle / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. A woman suffering from cholera symptoms lies on a stretcher at Santa Catherine hospital, Cite Soleil district, Port-au-Prince, on Nov. 16. (Andres Martinez Casares / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Informational pamphlets about cholera are passed out by a member of a Haitian Ministry of Health body-collection team on Nov. 16 in Port-au-Prince. (Joe Raedle / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. A child is examined at the Doctors Without Borders temporary hospital in Port-au-Prince on Nov. 16. Symptoms of cholera include severe diarrhea, vomiting and fever. (Emilio Morenatti / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Haitians have held anti-U.N. protests, accusing Nepalese peacekeepers of bringing cholera to Haiti. In the northern city of Cap-Haitien, hundreds of protesters gathered on Nov. 15, hurling stones at U.N. peacekeepers, setting up burning barricades and torching a police station. The riots have disrupted efforts to combat the growing health epidemic. (Remi Ochlik / Polaris) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. A relative of Monitha Silney, 12, who died of cholera, mourns during her burial at the cemetery in the slum of Cite Soleil in Port-au-Prince on Nov. 14. (Emilio Morenatti / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. A girl suffering cholera symptoms receives treatment at the Doctors Without Borders temporary hospital in Port-au-Prince, Nov. 12. (Emilio Morenatti / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. Residents argue at a water collection site at the Cite Soleil slum in Port-au-Prince, Nov. 11. (Ramon Espinosa / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. A man suffering from cholera recovers at the Sathe hospital in Cite Soleil, on Nov. 11. If caught early, cholera is easily treated; but if not, it can kill in just hours. (Andres Martínez Casares / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. A medic ties the legs of 2-year-old Clercilia Regis who, according to doctors, died of cholera a few minutes earlier at the St. Catherine hospital in Cite Soleil, on Nov. 10. (Ramon Espinosa / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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