Americas

Haiti opposition rejects Martelly’s election commission

A UN Peacekeeper takes cover behind national police officers while demonstrators throw rocks, during a protest against the country's electoral council to mark the 25th anniversary of first democratic election in 1990, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2015. The demonstrators started throwing rocks after UN Peacekeepers from Brazil fired teargas into the crowd.
A UN Peacekeeper takes cover behind national police officers while demonstrators throw rocks, during a protest against the country's electoral council to mark the 25th anniversary of first democratic election in 1990, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2015. The demonstrators started throwing rocks after UN Peacekeepers from Brazil fired teargas into the crowd. AP

Haiti’s opposition and Senate have rejected a newly formed electoral commission, saying the President Michel Martelly-created body fails to respond to demands of Haitians seeking an inquiry into the Oct. 25 first round presidential vote.

Nor does the commission, they say, resolve the post-electoral impasse that has been holding up a presidential runoff.

“It doesn’t correspond to what the society has been asking, to what the candidates have been asking; nor does it assure the credibility of the process,” said Senator Jocelerme Privert. “I believe all actors have to begin to think about what’s in the best interest of the nation — peace, security, stability in the first days of 2016. This commission will not provide any of that.”

A coalition of eight presidential candidates, dubbed the G8, also issued a statement about the commission, calling it a “cosmetic solution” to the crisis. Members said “it is inconceivable and unacceptable” that the country’s embattled Provisional Electoral Council and executive would work together to force such a solution on them without consulting them.

They called on Haitians, many of whom had been protesting against the vote, to remain mobilized and demanded the resignation of Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) members implicated in a brewing bribery scandal over the sale of legislative posts.

The rejection of the commission came as a swearing-in ceremony for its five members was abruptly postponed Thursday because members were still debating its mandate.

“A lot of people think three days is not sufficient,” said Rosny Desroches, the head of a Canada and U.S.-funded local electoral group that observed the balloting.

Desroches was named to the “Electoral Evaluation Commission” by Martelly to shed light on the vote amid allegations of “massive” fraud favoring his handpicked candidate, Jovenel Moïse.

The presidential order tasks members with evaluating the electoral machine to hold a more improved presidential runoff scheduled for Dec. 27. They would be aided by experts and observers from the European Union and Organization of American States. They were given three days to make recommendations to the government and the CEP on how to ensure the “transparency, credibility and legitimacy of the electoral process underway.”

Desroches, who had advocated for a verification of the vote amid the fraud allegations, concedes that the commission will not be doing any recounting of the more than 1.5 million ballots cast.

“We won’t have time for that,” he said. “There is a test we will do, and a more profound analysis on certain tally sheets that can provide an interesting clarity on what happened, and how it impacted the results.”

Haitians, he said, should not expect to see a change in the order between frontrunner Moïse and second place finisher, Jude Célestin. Nor will there be a removal of Moïse, as some have been demanding, in favor of either third-place finisher Moïse Jean Charles or fourth place finisher Dr. Maryse Narcisse.

The commission’s failure to do a deep investigation is counter to the demands that have paralyzed the country with growing street protests, opposition leaders and activists said. Political party Renmen Ayiti went as far as demanding that member Euvonie Georges August, also named to the body, not participate. The party’s presidential candidate Jean-Henry Ceant is a member of the G8.

The body, which Célestin is a member of, has called for an independent Haitian-led commission to verify the vote.

The announcement of the commission comes less than two weeks before the runoff and amid a bribery scandal that threatens to derail the installation of a new batch of legislative lawmakers in January.

The brewing scandal coupled with the alleged vote-rigging in the presidential vote have cast doubt on the credibility of the electoral process, and risk having Haiti run by a transitional government. In recent weeks, a growing number of Haitians, from presidential candidates to religious leaders, have pushed — over the objections of the international community — for the formation of an independent Haitian-led commission to provide “truth and transparency” in the balloting.

In the interest of the democracy that we are building, it’s very important for the electoral process to continue.

Jovenel Moïse, Haiti presidential candidate

Moïse, a banana exporter, has dismissed the allegations.

“Today, in the interest of the democracy that we are building, it’s very important for the electoral process to continue,” Moïse said Wednesday while campaigning.

Moïse’s plea came a day after Célestin wrote to the CEP warning that if it doesn’t address the widening doubt about the results, Haiti risked being without a president on Feb. 7 — the constitutionally mandated date for Martelly to turn over power. Célestin said an independent commission to evaluate the Oct. 25 vote was the only way to salvage the process and perhaps guarantee his participation in a runoff. He has not made any separate statements about the commission.

It is difficult to see the opposition accepting this proposal.

Robert Fatton, Haiti expert

Robert Fatton, a Haiti expert who has been closely monitoring the crisis, said if Célestin doesn’t agree to the commission, the proposal is “completely useless because it will certainly not satisfy Fanmi Lavalas and key members of the G8.” He also noted that the commission is called “evaluation” and not “verification.”

“We shall find out fairly soon if Célestin will bite given that he can name someone to the commission. What seems clear is that the international community is supporting this initiative because the OAS and other foreign observers will be involved in the process,” said Fatton, who teaches political science at the University of Virginia. “I assume that this is progress. But it is difficult to see the opposition accepting this proposal. It may serve as the basis for further negotiations, but this means that the election will certainly not take place on Dec. 27.”

So far, no official announcement has been made about changes to the runoff date. The National Palace announcement of an “evaluation” commission came hours after Paul tweeted that he had recommended the creation of a body to “guarantee the credibility of the process.”

Paul’s announcement immediately came under fire from Haitians who have been calling for a commission to recount the Oct. 25 vote.

“We can’t construct a society on trickery,” Pierre Esperance of the National Human Rights Defense Network. (RNDDH) said during an appearance on Vision 2000’s morning news program.

On Wednesday, Haiti’s Senate called on Martelly and the CEP to halt the release of all final election results until an independent commission could be mounted to either audit the vote or “shed light on the numerous allegations of fraud, irregularities and notoriously flagrant corruption” with an evaluation commission.

The request came a day before elections officials were scheduled to announce final legislative runoff results and as the bribery scandal erupted.

Several legislative candidates have taken to the radio in recent days, detailing how they were asked to pay thousands of dollars in bribes to electoral court judges and CEP members in hopes of securing a spot in the new parliament. While an unnamed CEP member refuted the allegations to radio journalists, an accused judge would later confirmed that bribes had been paid — but not to him.

Given the bribery allegations, some Haiti observers said the issue now is no longer whether the Dec. 27 presidential runoff remains a possibility, but whether any election with the current CEP will be feasible and acceptable to anyone.

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