Americas

Haiti election official resigns ahead of Oct. 25 vote

Haiti's former President Jean Bertrand Aristide, left, talks to the crowd after he urged supporters to vote for presidential candidate Maryse Narcisse, right, of the Fanmi Lavalas political party, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Wednesday Sept. 30, 2015. Aristide's public endorsement could be a boon for Narcisse, who is polling well below front-runner Jude Celestin. During the last election cycle about five years ago, the party was barred from the ballot.
Haiti's former President Jean Bertrand Aristide, left, talks to the crowd after he urged supporters to vote for presidential candidate Maryse Narcisse, right, of the Fanmi Lavalas political party, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Wednesday Sept. 30, 2015. Aristide's public endorsement could be a boon for Narcisse, who is polling well below front-runner Jude Celestin. During the last election cycle about five years ago, the party was barred from the ballot. AP

A member of Haiti’s Provisional Electoral Council resigned Friday, raising concerns about the possibility of more resignations from the embattled body and the fate of the Oct. 25 vote for president, mayors and members of parliament.

“I am not comfortable,” Néhémy Joseph told Haiti’s Le Nouvelliste newspaper, confirming the news that he had sent President Michel Martelly a letter announcing his resignation.

In the signed three-page resignation letter circulating on social media, Joseph addressed the criticisms dogging the council, and told Martelly that Haiti needs more than anything “inclusive and impartial elections.”

Martelly was headed back to Port-au-Prince on Friday from New York where he addressed the United Nations General Assembly on Thursday morning.

Joseph represented the Vodou and peasant community on the nine-member council, commonly referred to by its French acronym, the CEP. His resignation comes three weeks before the critical vote to elect Martelly’s successor and end his one-man rule by restoring parliament through runoffs, and four days ahead of a visit by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. Kerry is scheduled to stop in Haiti for a few hours Tuesday on his way back to Washington from Chile, where he will be participating in Our Ocean conference on Monday. The Haitian elections are a key discussion item for Kerry in his meeting with Martelly and other government officials, sources say.

Last month, during a visit between Kerry and Prime Minister Evans Paul, Kerry said “it is imperative for the elections that will take place in October to be successful.”

Such concerns have been voiced by others in the international community as well as Haitians, who have questioned how prepared the nine-member Provisional Electoral Council is this go around. On Aug. 9, the vote for 139 legislative seats was marred by violence, fraud and late starts at polling stations across Haiti. Balloting at dozens of polling stations had to be suspended because of armed disruptions.

Despite the problems, the United States and others deemed the vote credible. On the ground, candidates for the presidency have put up billboards and hit the campaign trail. At least 10 of the 54 who are running for president are expected to be in South Florida for a 4 p.m. presidential debate Sunday at North Miami Senior High, 13110 NE Eighth Ave.

The local debate comes on the heels of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide breaking his silence this week to mark the Sept. 30, 1991 coup that forced his first exile and to campaign for his Lavalas Family party candidate, Dr. Maryse Narcisse. He told the crowd gathered outside of his front gate in Tabarre, “do not obey those who do not respect human rights.” The former leader also criticized election officials, calling for cancellation of what he said was “the Aug. 9 electoral coup.”

For weeks, opposition candidates and political parties issued similar sentiments, taking to the streets to demand the resignation of Martelly and Pierre-Louis Opont, the council president.

One major party, Verite, backed by former President René Préval, went as far as to boycott Oct. 25.

Elections officials, meanwhile, have gone about planning the vote, traveling to Dubai, for instance, to check on the printing of ballots even though they had not yet announced who would be in the legislative runoffs. On Monday, they announced final results from the Aug. 9 vote, declaring that 10 lawmakers, including two senators, had won in the first round, despite the violence and fraud and the need to re-run races in several constituencies.

Further, Opont, who had never officially opened campaigning for the legislative elections, declared that the second round would be held at the same time as the balloting for president and mayors.

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