Concerns over Haiti’s disputed presidential elections widened Monday when Catholic bishops and a group of pastors joined an alliance of opposition presidential candidates in demanding an inquiry into the vote.
The alliance of eight candidates, led by second-place finisher Jude Célestin and dubbed the G8, reiterated its demand for an independent commission to verify the Oct. 25 presidential vote amid allegations the balloting was tainted by “massive” fraud and irregularities on behalf of frontrunner Jovenel Moise, the government-backed candidate, and his party.
The group in a signed communique issued late Sunday also is demanding sweeping changes in the police hierarchy and electoral system ahead of next month’s planed presidential runoff. Should those changes not occur, they said, they will be left with no other choice but to force a transition government to oversee new elections in Haiti.
“The G8 is convinced that honest, free, transparent and democratic elections cannot be obtained under the presidency of Joseph Michel Martelly without changes in the [Provisional Electoral Council], without a changes in some units of the [Haiti National Police] and the command at departmental offices, and without the end of reprisals and repression by police against peaceful demonstrators,” the candidates wrote.
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The communique set off a chain reaction Monday with Moise’s PHTK party canceling a press conference to announce the official launch of his campaign. Prime Minister Evans Paul also entered the fray by meeting with the Private Sector Economic Forum, which has also quietly called for an inquiry into the vote.
Célestin, meanwhile, issued his own letter Monday afternoon, informing elections officials he would not be attending a Wednesday meeting. He noted that he was happy to meet as long as the proposed agenda addressed a number of issues both he and his G8 coalition have raised.
The Catholic and Protestant churches, which both have representatives on the nine-member Provisional Electoral Council, known as the CEP, also broke their silence on the impasse.
“Respect for human rights has regressed, democracy is at risk and the country’s future is uncertain,” Rev. Ernst Pierre Vincent said on behalf of the Conference of Haitian Pastors in a strongly worded statement. Vincent called the electoral council’s decision to publish the final presidential results despite the allegations that the vote was tainted by “massive” fraud and irregularities “a plot to topple the country into utter anarchy.”
Catholic Bishops, meanwhile, called on the council to “reveal the truth about what really happened and who discredited the results;” and to provide more transparency in the electoral machine and at the vote Tabulation Center. Bishops also called on the council to be impartial and the police to be apolitical in their practices.
Two presidential candidates participating in recent protests were injured when police fired on the crowd to disperse them. Protesters, meanwhile, have been complaining about arrests and intimidation by a specialized police unit.
The candidates ended the statement by calling on the public “to continue to exercise its right to peacefully demonstrate to enforce its will and not to give into blackmail, intimidation and manipulation.” Thousands of protesters have taken to the streets in growing and violent protests over the Oct. 25 presidential results amid allegations that the vote was plagued by “massive” fraud.
The candidates’ statement comes after days of meetings and speculation about whether Célestin will go into the Dec. 27 presidential runoff against Moise.
The G8 is convinced that honest, free, transparent and democratic elections cannot be obtained under the presidency of Joseph Michel Martelly without changes
coalition of eight Haitian presidential candidates
Foreign diplomats, while insisting on the one hand that these are Haitian elections, have been on the other hand trying to get support for the runoff, telling business leaders and politicians that their governments do not favor transition and want Haiti’s future president to have legitimacy.
Should Célestin withdraw, as some have called on him to do, Haiti’s electoral law says the third-place finisher, former Sen. Moise Jean-Charles, would move up in the runoff slot. And should he decline, the slot would go to fourth-place finisher, Dr. Maryse Narcisse, former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s handpicked choice. While Jean-Charles is a member of the G8 and signatory on the letter, Narcisse is not and hasn’t signed.
In all, there were 54 presidential candidates in the race.
A banana exporter with no political experience, Moise has denied the fraud allegations and pushed back calls for his removal.
CEP President Pierre-Louis Opont on Monday minimized the G8 letter, and noted that Célestin has not officially withdrawn. Opont reiterated that the law doesn’t authorize the CEP to form an independent verification commission.
The CEP announced the final election results last Tuesday pitting Célestin, the former head of the state construction agency, against Moise after the National Offices of Electoral Litigation rejected Narcisse’s demands that Moise be removed for fraud.
Narcisse was one of two candidates who legally challenged their standing in the preliminary results. During a random check of about 10 percent of the tally sheets at the vote Tabulation Center warehouse in Port-au-Prince, all were found to have had either fraudulent votes or discrepancies that should have invalidated them.
Instead of ordering a deeper verification, the five-member judges of the electoral litigation unit ordered that the discovered tallies be removed from the final results.
“The G8 deemed it to be unacceptable that the CEP published these results before it recognized the existence of massive fraud in the process; without seeking to determine on the one hand, the scale of the fraud and, secondly, to identify the fraudsters and applying sanctions prescribed by the electoral decree,” the candidates said.
A coalition of local observers, who are also demanding verification of the vote, said Saturday that the random sample, in fact, “confirms the concerns of our observation coalition on the extent of the fraud and the need for an in-depth, independent and transparent audit.”
The coalition said the attitude of the electoral institution over the controversial elections— CEP President Pierre-Louis Opont has said its up to critics to prove the fraud— “once again raises serious concerns related to the lack of transparency and respect for democratic standards.”