Haitian President Michel Martelly is calling on Haitians to head to the polls Sunday despite fears of violence and a chorus of voices warning that the conditions do not exist to hold the partial legislative and presidential runoff elections.
“Wake up early to go vote for the person who you want, the person whom you think can better represent you, the person who can make the country work,” Martelly said in a national address on state-owned Radio Television Nationale d’Haiti on Thursday evening. “No one can stop anyone from going to vote to fulfill their civic duty.”
Martelly’s insistence on moving “straight ahead” with the country’s disputed elections has triggered fears that a volatile Haiti could be headed for catastrophe. Fearing potential violence, legislators were trying on Thursday to figure out another means to put the vote on hold outside of a non-binding resolution that 15 senators passed with five abstentions on Wednesday night asking for the Provisional Electoral Council to suspend the electoral process.
Meanwhile, opposition leaders, in defiance of a government edict that no protests can take place in the 48 hours before polls open at 6 a.m., announced four days of demonstrations. Sensitive voting materials are supposed to start deploying Friday morning.
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The vote pits Martelly’s hand-picked successor, Jovenel Moïse, against opposition candidate Jude Célestin. While Moïse, who traveled to Cap-Haitien Thursday to campaign, has joined Martelly in his call for the country’s 5.8 million registered voters to head to the polls, Célestin has called on them to boycott. He has called the vote “a selection” and “masquerade” that he will not participate in.
U.S. Congresswoman Maxine Waters, D-California, in a letter to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, expressed deep concerns about the electoral process, She warned that “forcing demonstratively flawed elections on unwilling voters risks disaster for Haiti and discredit for the United States.”
The United States has contributed more than $30 million to the elections, which began with a violence and fraud-marred Aug. 9 first-round legislative vote. It continued to call for dialogue even as Martelly announced his determination not to let street protests, attacks on electoral offices and burning tires in the last two days deter Sunday’s vote.
“There will be elections on the 24th of January,” Martelly said. “This is the road we have been on since the 9th of August.”
Early Thursday, the Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement signed by Roman Catholic Cardinal Chibly Langlois, stating that “the necessary conditions are not there to have good elections,” and “the recommendations of an electoral evaluations commission have not been clearly followed.”
The bishops’ concerns and call for all sides to find a compromise came on the heels of similar sentiments expressed by other groups including the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Haiti.
Haiti’s first cardinal, Langlois has been trying to negotiate an accord between Martelly and the opposition. His proposal calls for the balloting to be postponed until next month and a new president to take office no later than March. 29. Martelly would not oversee the elections and would have to leave power by Feb. 7 as mandated in the constitution. That option, say those familiar with the talks, is unacceptable to the president who has always maintained that his role is to hand over power to an elected president.
In an early morning live interview on Le Point program on Radio and TV Metropole Haiti, Martelly acknowledged that talks have been ongoing but remained steadfast in his desire to hold the vote.
“If there was a good will to bring a solution to the table, we would have already postponed the date,” he said.
Those familiar with the ongoing talks said that appearance by Martelly, who was defensive and combative as he blamed the crisis on the opposition, deepened the standoff. He accused the opposition of orchestrating “a vast plot to destabilize us,” because it cannot win power through elections.
The government, he said, has done all it can to implement the recommendations of the commission charged with evaluating the Oct. 25 presidential first round, which has been dogged by allegations of fraud.
“It is not true that we have not responded to the recommendations,” he said.
Paul, a longtime opposition activist and politician, was equally critical of the opposition.
“There are two projects,” he said. “One is the 24th and the other one is chaos.”
Opposition senators, however, said it will be difficult should the vote go on as planned.
“There will not be a National Assembly for a new president to be sworn in on Feb. 7,” Sen. Carlos Lebon said.
For his part, Célestin said in a Miami Herald editorial that “elections cannot be held by any means necessary, and certainly not under the current set of conditions, evident by now to all in Haiti.”