Rejecting the idea of an unelected transition government taking power in Haiti, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday pledged continued U.S. support for the Oct. 25 presidential elections, saying the vote must happen as scheduled.
“It is only through elections that a legitimate transfer of power can take place,” Kerry said during his first visit to Haiti and after a meeting with Haitian President Michel Martelly and other government officials. “Haiti needs to come together and its political system … needs to get away from gridlock.”
Martelly reaffirmed his commitment to elections, saying his government is “committed to respecting the deadline of 25 October and the need for presidential power to be transmitted” from one elected leader to another.
In 19 days, 5.8 million registered Haitians are scheduled to go to the polls to select Martelly’s successor from a field of 54 candidates. Balloting for mayors in 140 municipalities, and the second round of the fraud- and violence-marred Aug. 9 legislative vote, are also scheduled that day.
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I am deeply concerned about Haiti’s 2015 elections and the impact they will have on Haiti’s future if the Haitian people do not perceive them to be credible
U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif
“The political conditions have not been met for there to be free, honest and democratic elections in the country,” said opposition leader and former presidential candidate Andre Michel. Michel, who rejected Kerry’s position, has been leading demonstrations demanding the early departure of Martelly and the resignation of Pierre-Louis Opont, the head of a nine-member Provisional Electoral Council, known as the CEP.
“President Martelly and his government are the main obstacles to the holding of good elections,” he said.
Despite Kerry’s tough stance, the international community, which has insisted from the onset that these are Haitian-led elections, has deep concerns about the vote, including the role of police and preparation by election officials.
The electoral process has been rife with problems that have undermined the credibility of the CEP. At the root of the problems is the armed violence and voter intimidation that led to balloting being suspended at dozens of polling stations on Aug. 9, and an 18 percent voter turnout.
It is deplorable that the CEP has decided not to consider the sanctions demanded by several sectors of the Haitian society
Haitian elections observers
Last week, the CEP announced that 10 legislators, including two senators, had won in the first round despite earlier admissions that the vote needed to be held again in 25 constituencies. Four days later, council member Néhémy Joseph resigned.
On Monday, Haiti’s largest human rights group, the National Human Rights Defense Network, reiterated its call for the CEP to take corrective measures ahead of Oct. 25. Otherwise, the CEP risks undermining the population’s confidence in the electoral process, the group warned.
“It is deplorable that the CEP has decided not to consider the sanctions demanded by several sectors of the Haitian society,” the group said in a statement.
Echoing observers’ concerns, U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters urged Kerry to demand an investigation of the violence, fraud and voter intimidation and that responsible individuals and parties be sanctioned, regardless of political party affiliation.
“I am deeply concerned about Haiti’s 2015 elections and the impact they will have on Haiti’s future if the Haitian people do not perceive them to be credible,” Waters said.
Florida Republican lawmaker Mario Rubio also called on Kerry to provide U.S. support for “free, fair and inclusive” elections in Haiti. Other lawmakers have signed a letter to Kerry that states it is essential that the Oct. 25 elections and Dec. 27 presidential runoff “meet international electoral standards.”
“The United States condemns any violence and we encourage full participating in the election process,” said Kerry, noting that the U.S. government has provided more than $30 million for the elections and will continue to assist. “Nobody wins when people refuse to take part and be part of the debate and choices for the future.”
Kerry’s three-hour stop took place two days before the U.N. Security Council is scheduled to vote on renewing the mandate of its U.N. peacekeeping force, known by its French acronym, MINUSTAH. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is recommending that the mandate be extended “for an additional and possibly final year, until 15 October 2016.” The force has been key in providing stability in Haiti, where election-related violence remains a deep concern.
Kerry pointed out that it’s only through a legal and legitimate transition that Haiti can attract investors.
“We strongly urge people to embrace the opportunity in these next 19 days,” he said. “Go to the polls and vote peacefully and with determination and to unite for the force of Haiti.”