BY JACQUELINE CHARLES
MIAMI HERALD (TNS)
A commission charged with evaluating Haiti’s Oct. 25 presidential and legislative elections has found that egregious irregularities and a high presumption of fraud plagued the vote, while the electoral machine requires sweeping changes in order to hold a runoff.
According to official results, government-backed candidate Jovenel Moise received 32.76 percent of the votes while Jude Celestin, the former head of the state construction agency, garnered 25.29 percent. Celestin, however, called the results a “ridiculous farce” and refused to campaign.
Alleging vote-rigging and ballot-stuffing, Celestin and other opposition candidates called for an independent Haitian-led commission to probe the disputed balloting. The commission was created by President Michel Martelly on Dec. 22, five days before the postponed second round. On Jan. 3, members issued their findings, which critics say do not resolve the political crisis despite pointing out a series of major systemic problems besieging Haitian society.
Haiti’s postponed presidential and legislative runoffs and elections for local offices will take place on Jan. 24, the head of the Provisional Electoral Council announced Tuesday.
Pierre-Louis Opont disclosed the date in a letter to President Michel Martelly after a meeting of the nine-member council. Twenty-four hours earlier, Opont had informed Martelly that it was impossible to organize the elections for Jan. 17 — the final date, he said, voting could be staged to guarantee the handover of power from one elected president to another in time to meet the constitutionally imposed Feb. 7 deadline.
Opont’s new position comes as top U.S. State Department envoys Thomas Shannon and Kenneth Merten head to Haiti on Wednesday to meet with him, Martelly and top presidential finishers Jovenel Moïse and Jude Célestin. Their goal: To salvage Haiti’s electoral process, which began unraveling this week. The worrying political developments prompted U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to express concerns about next week’s planned inauguration of parliament.
“Parliament has not functioned since January 2015,” said Ban’s spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, in a statement. “In this regard, [the Secretary General] underlines the importance of inaugurating the new legislature within the constitutional time frame to ensure the renewal of democratic institutions and consolidate political stability in Haiti.”.
Tally sheets modified
The report, pointed out that voters’ signatures or fingerprints were missing from 57 percent of the audited documents. Voter registration numbers were missing from 31 percent of the partial voting list and were written incorrectly on another 47 percent.
Meanwhile, 60 percent of voters were allowed to vote by proxy, and the commission noted that 43 percent of the tally sheets had been modified.
While commission members visited the vote-tabulation center to audit documents, the commission’s work is more an evaluation of the electoral process rather than a verification of the 1.5 million ballots cast. As a result, the report stops short of saying who benefited most from the irregularities or fraud, a conclusion that requires more technical expertise and analysis, the commission notes.
Plenty of questions
There’s mounting speculation in Haiti about the fate of the presidency should Célestin officially boycott the runoff. Among the widespread questions: Will elections officials move to the next candidate in the lineup? Will Martelly remain until May 14 — the anniversary of the date he took office — even though the amended constitution doesn’t authorize an extension of his mandate? Or will the country be ruled by a transitional government?
On Tuesday, seven diplomats representing the Core Group of countries supporting Haiti issued a statement acknowledging the “efforts aimed at enhancing the credibility and transparency of the ongoing electoral process and ensuring a level playing field” with the commission’s report.
Foreign diplomats, however, reiterated their call for “state institutions and political actors alike to take all steps necessary to ensure a peaceful transfer of power to a newly elected President by the constitutionally mandated date of 7 February.”
Adding to the country’s woes, an alliance of eight opposition presidential candidates, responding to the commission’s elections report, on Monday reiterated its call for the creation of a provisional government to complete the election process and the resignation of the CEP.
Though the alliance, dubbed the G-8, had refused to meet with the commission and continued to bash its composition, it noted that the report’s findings bolstered opposition claims that the vote was tainted by vote-rigging and ballot stuffing.
“The commission is unable to identify who are the candidates who have qualified for the second round and to indicate that the results obtained by each candidate involved in the race,” Samuel Madistin, an attorney and former presidential candidate, wrote on behalf of the G-8. “The cowardice of the members of the commission makes it impossible in such conditions to continue with the electoral process.”