The publication of final legislative results by Haiti’s Provisional Electoral Council — over the objections of the country’s Senate — triggered violent protests and acts of vandalism in several Haitian cities.
Unrest was reported in at least five of the country’s departments — the North, Northwest, Southwest, Southeast and West. Elections offices and homes were set on fire, rocks were thrown and tires were left burning.
By Saturday afternoon, there was a tenuous calm in some areas, but other communities were still reporting blocked roads.
In the southwest city of Les Cayes, roads were blocked and windows of passing vehicles were broken by people throwing rocks, said former Sen. Francky Exius, who lost his bid to return to the Senate. Exius confirmed the information on the popular Saturday political program Ranmase.
“It’s not just the presidential elections that is blocking the streets. It’s the elections for Deputies, Mayors,” Exius said.
Early Saturday, residents in the town of Ternier, in the southeastern seaside city of Jacmel, blocked the road with rocks and tree trunks to protest the results.
“The situation for now is calm, I don’t know if it will flare up again,” police spokesman Gary Victor said around 1 p.m. Victor said he couldn’t confirm to which political party the angry residents belonged.
In the city of Terrier Rouge in northeast Haiti, the violence started immediately after the council published the legislative results, Haiti National Police Inspector Guytho Noel said.
Supporters of the opposition party, MOPOD, set on fire the inside of the commune’s electoral bureau (BEC) and vandalized the local library, he said. They also blocked the road with flaming tires.
Noel said police also are investigating the death of an 18-year-old male whose body was found in the area.
“Police are trying to secure the area, and things right now are apparently calm,” he said. “But we have problems here in Terrier Rouge, Ferrier and Trou du Nord.”
Haiti National Police spokesman Frantz Lerebours said a house was set ablaze in Trou du Nord and a morgue belonging to a newly elected member of parliament was ransacked. The road in Grand Goave in the West Department also remained blocked late Saturday.
Earlier this week, the only existing tier of Haiti’s 30-member Senate called on President Michel Martelly and the country’s embattled elections council to suspend publication of all final election results, including those for parliament, until an independent commission can be mounted to audit the Oct. 25 elections.
Haiti has been without a functioning parliament since January when the terms of all but 10 senators expired.
The Senate’s request came a day before the legislative runoff results were scheduled to be released, and as a bribery scandal threatened to derail the process and the installation of the 50th Legislature in January.
In recent days, several legislative candidates have taken to the airwaves detailing how they were asked to pay thousands of dollars in bribes to electoral court judges and council members in hopes of securing a spot in parliament. While an unnamed CEP member refuted the allegations to Magik9 journalists, later that afternoon the same station featured an accused judge who confirmed that bribes had been made — but not to him.
The palace didn’t comment on the request, but instead announced late in the week that it had formed a five-member “Electoral Evaluation Commission” to review the Oct. 25 vote in hopes of breaking the impasse that has held the Dec. 27 presidential runoff hostage.
However, the commission and the way in which it was formed has come under heavy criticism. The opposition and the Senate have rejected the body. And twice, the government has been forced to postpone the swearing-in of its members, who were supposed to have issued a report by Sunday.
Among the issues is that the commission would have just 72 hours to provide recommendations to the government and elections officials about its findings. Also, the government did not seek the approval of the Catholic Church before appointing one of its monsignors, Patrick Aris, to the body.
The European Union also objected to provide technical support, issuing a curt email to say that its role was to observe the electoral process. The Organization of American States, listed as an observer, also declined to provide technical assistance.
“We want to be impartial and respectful; we will keep overseeing the process without interfering in it,” said Gerardo de Icaza, director of the department of electoral cooperation and observation of the OAS. “We want this to be a Haitian process.”
Meanwhile, with at least three of the five commission members either working for the administration or having ties to it, critics have questioned its independence. Dismissing the criticism, Prime Minister Evans Paul said members’ independence comes from their integrity.
“The government has done everything possible to get out of the crisis,” he said. “Although we are divided on the details we all want for the world to know that the country is changing and that we are respected internationally.”
While Paul acknowledged that holding a presidential runoff on Dec. 27 would be difficult, elections officials have yet to officially announce that the balloting has been postponed.