Haiti stays calm as losing candidates vow to challenge presidential results

A supporter of presidential candidate Maryse Narcisse, from Fanmi Lavalas political party, holds campaign posters of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide during a protest against election results in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Tuesday.
A supporter of presidential candidate Maryse Narcisse, from Fanmi Lavalas political party, holds campaign posters of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide during a protest against election results in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Tuesday. AP

An eerily calm Haiti woke up Tuesday to a president-elect and more uncertainty as three of the losing candidates vowed to legally challenge preliminary presidential results.

Their supporters, meanwhile, pledged to remain mobilized in a day of tepid protests, rock throwing and burning tires.

Jovenel Moïse, a banana plantation owner and the handpicked choice of former President Michel Martelly, won 55.67 percent of the votes in the Nov. 20 redo presidential elections — well ahead of his closest rival, Jude Célestin, according to preliminary results announced late Monday night by Haiti’s Provisional Electoral Council (CEP).

While the votes are enough for Moïse, 48, to win the presidency outright against 26 other candidates and avoid a runoff, Célestin, along with third- and fourth-place finishers Jean-Charles Moïse and Maryse Narcisse, pledged to fight the results in court.

“For a guy who is supposedly popular, where is the celebration in the streets?” said Célestin, who had made the runoff against Moïse in last year’s highly contested Oct. 25 presidential elections but refused to participate after he and others alleged that the vote was marred by widespread massive fraud. “I don’t see any.”

For a guy who is supposedly popular, where is the celebration in the streets?

Jude Célestin, presidential candidate

Jean-Charles Moïse (no relation to the president-elect) said two different results were issued. One was sent to the National Palace in the morning, and a second one was sent later in the evening.

“We really don’t understand what happened,” he said. “We are going to launch a judicial and political battle. We have all of our tallies and we know no candidate received 50 percent of the vote or had 25 percent more than another candidate.”

The streets in the capital were mostly empty Tuesday, void of the usual traffic jam or even celebration, save for a few new pink and white posters of Jovenel Moïse that were going up along the Canape Vert Road.

Along Delmas 60, near Célestin’s Lapeh political party headquarters, anti-Moïse protesters burned tires and threw rocks. And near La Saline, one of the strongholds of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s Fanmi Lavalas political party, throngs of angry men spoke of revolution and revolt while carrying posters of Narcisse in impromptu protests and random acts of tire burnings.

“Yes, the people went to elections and voted; but they voted for the person in their interest,” Fabre Germain, 30, said as he stood along Grand Rue, where heavily armed Haiti National Police put out burning tires and removed large rocks blocking the road.

“We are not going to accept these results,” Germain said. “Look at the conditions under which we are living. We are hungry, we are living in misery. Today is the moment for us to revolt, and we will revolt.”

We are not going to accept these results. Look at the conditions under which we are living.

Fabre Germain, voter

Walky Pierre, 27, who lives in Croix-des-Bouquets but was sent across the capital to Carrefour to vote on Election Day, said the population never loses a battle.

“The majority of the people don’t want the person who they are trying to impose on us as president,” he said. “If they did, then last night after they gave the election results, you would have sensed a lot of joy and contentment. You don’t have it. If it was the person whom the people wanted, you would have seen it.”

The nine-member elections council announced the results at about 10:30 p.m. Monday, eight hours after summoning journalists to its headquarters. The long wait, and the fact that three of the members refused to validate the results, have raised suspicions and questions about their authenticity despite the congratulatory notes from U.S. lawmakers and foreign observers.

The Organization of American States issued a statement supporting the outcome: “The preliminary results show significant margins between the number of votes obtained by the candidates contesting the election and are in line with data collected by OAS observers at polling stations on Election Day.”

Council President Leopold Berlanger and Robinson Cherilus, the head of the vote tabulation center, both defended the results and went to great lengths to detail how the votes were tallied. Berlanger stressed that the results were preliminary and candidates could challenge them in the electoral courts before Dec. 29 when the final results are due.

Should the results hold, it will mean that Haiti will have an elected president for the first time since Martelly left office on Feb. 7 without an elected successor. The country has since been governed by a provisional government led by interim President Jocelerme Privert, whose 120-day term expired on June 14.

Ahead of the vote, Privert lauded his government’s ability to pull off the elections despite objections by the U.S. and others in the international community, which opposed the rerun and refused to help with the $55 million price tag.

Voters went to the polls on Nov. 20 — six weeks after a deadly Hurricane Matthew made landfall on Haiti’s southern peninsula as a Category 4 storm. The country suffered $2 billion in damages, including destroyed agricultural fields, washed-out roads and a humanitarian crisis affecting 1.4 million Haitians.

Despite the devastation, Berlanger said that turnout in the hurricane-affected areas was among the highest. Still, the elections’ overall 21 percent voter turnout is one of the lowest for a Haitian presidential vote.

And that worries State University of Haiti sociologist and political analyst Fritz Dorvilier.

Dorvilier said Moïse not only faces opposition from political opponents who are challenging his victory, but should he survive the legal challenge and be sworn in, he could face increased opposition from the population. Most of Haiti’s 10 million citizens have lost faith in the electoral process, yet they expect sweeping change in the face of an anemic economy, huge unemployment and rising inflation.

“We’re in a vicious cycle,” he said.

At a press conference after the vote, Moïse called on Haitians to unite around his election and help him put Haiti upright.

His words, however, did little to stem tensions as the top three losing candidates all took to the radio Tuesday morning to denounce the results and the way they were tallied inside the Vote Tabulation Center.

Last week, Célestin, Narcisse and seven senators each sent letters to the CEP calling on it to apply the electoral law and refuse ballots where voter lists — proof that someone had voted — were not properly documented with either a signature or fingerprint.

Election officials noted during the announcement that 10 percent of the votes were disregarded — higher than either the amount in last year’s ballot-stuffing Aug. 9 legislative election or the contested presidential vote.

It was of little consolation to Narcisse, who called Moïse’s selection an “electoral coup d’etat.” Her campaign manager Leslie Voltaire went even further.

“Democracy is in danger in Haiti,” he said. “Only 5 percent of the Haitians and 10 percent of the electorate will choose a new president and congressmen and senators. In addition, there is suspicion of high-tech fraud by a financial clique controlling the CEP and connected to the Dominican Republic.”

Democracy is in danger in Haiti.

Leslie Voltaire, campaign manager for Maryse Narcisse

An unknown businessman until he was picked by Martelly, Moïse found support from many in the economic elite and supporters of Martelly’s political party known by the acronym PHTK.

While some Haitians are willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, others wonder how much political latitude Moïse will have given his circle of support.

“Jovenel as president means having the same mess that Martelly was doing,” with his social assistance programs, said Jude Saintiler, 36, an unemployed father of two. “In three years, Martelly traveled so much that he became a frequent flier. Today, they are plotting to put Jovenel Moïse in the face of a population that is shaken, deprived, powerless. Today a lot of the children of the poor cannot go to school, cannot find food to eat.”

Willio Pierre, an unemployed truck driver who voted for Célestin, said he’s willing to give Moïse a chance even though he wasn’t his candidate.

“We can’t stay in this never-ending saga of elections,” he said. “We need solutions in this country.”