It’s not yet official, but the head of Haiti’s newly revamped Provisional Electoral Council made it clear Tuesday that the country’s repeatedly postponed final round, scheduled for the last Sunday of this month, won’t happen that day.
Léopold Berlanger, a media executive who was appointed president of the nine-member council after members were sworn in last week, said they couldn’t talk about an election calendar until they first figure out what’s ailing the nation’s electoral process.
He also punted on the politically thorny issue of a recount. Berlanger said the formation of a verification commission to address the allegations of “massive” fraud and determine who belongs in the second round “is a political decision” best left to others.
“You have to understand what malfunction [the electoral machinery] has, and what needs to be done to fix it before the second [round] can take off,” Berlanger said during the council’s first news conference. “After we determine that, we can continue with the electoral calendar.”
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Initially scheduled for Dec. 27, Haiti’s final round to elect a president and complete parliament has twice been postponed after the opposition alleged multiple voting irregularities and ballot tampering.
The January postponement forced President Michel Martelly to depart office in February without an elected successor, and a transitional government to step into the power vacuum.
The first delay in December was to allow a five-member electoral evaluation commission to address the fraud allegations while also recommending ways to safeguard the integrity of the runoff. The commission found egregious irregularities and a high presumption of fraud. It recommended various changes to the electoral process that it said were necessary in order for a second round to take place.
But those recommendations were never fully adopted. Citing that failure, as well as the dismissal of his own recommendations, opposition presidential candidate Jude Célestin declared his boycott of the race against government-backed candidate Jovenel Moïse. Days later, the elections were postponed for a second time as opposition supporters burned polling stations and voting materials, and reiterated their calls for verification of the results.
The January postponement forced President Michel Martelly to depart office a month later without an elected successor, and a transitional government stepped in to fill the power vacuum. Under a Feb. 5 political accord guiding the process, the runoffs were scheduled for April 24.
Berlanger said he can’t say how long the council’s evaluation will take, but there are many unresolved issues that need to be addressed in order to stage a free, fair and transparent process. They range from taking care of past debts to publishing the final results of the municipal elections. Of the 140 municipal elections that were held on Oct. 25 alongside the presidential first round and legislative runoffs, Berlanger said, 81 are being contested.
“That is something grave,” he said. “It shows that the process is sick.”
In an interview with Haiti’s Le Nouvelliste newspaper, U.S. Ambassador Peter Mulrean said the elections need to be held in “the shortest time possible.”
Mulrean dismissed calls for a verification commission, which opposition candidates and others have said is needed before the second round can happen.
“A new evaluation or even verification isn’t necessary,” he said, reiterating the position of others in the international community who want the elections resumed with Célestin and Moïse on the ballot.