Haiti

Haiti First Lady Sophia Martelly reviewing options after candidacy rejected

In this Sept. 10, 2014, file photo, Haiti's first lady Sophia Martelly visits a warehouse housing a donation of kits to treat chikungunya in the Cite Soleil slum in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. An elections committee in Haiti has the rejected first lady's bid to run for Senate.
In this Sept. 10, 2014, file photo, Haiti's first lady Sophia Martelly visits a warehouse housing a donation of kits to treat chikungunya in the Cite Soleil slum in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. An elections committee in Haiti has the rejected first lady's bid to run for Senate. AP

Haiti’s First Lady Sophia Martelly’s attorney says the decision by the country’s elections dispute panel to block her from running for a seat in the Haitian Senate is unfair and he’s studying the decision to decide his next steps.

“We think that the law has not been respected and the civil and constitutional rights of the first lady have been violated,” Gregory Mayard-Paul told the Miami Herald.

Martelly’s hopes of a political career as a member of Haiti’s 30-seat Senate were dashed Tuesday when it was revealed that the National Bureau of Electoral Disputes (BCEN) had rejected her candidacy. The bureau has yet to publicly announce its decision.

All decisions taken by the BCEN, which includes two members of the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP), two lawyers and a judge, are supposed to be final.

Martelly, who has never held political office, had hoped to represent the West department, which includes Port-au-Prince, when she filed last month to run for the Haitian Senate. But her candidacy was quickly challenged on the grounds that she was an American citizen, and as had served in an official capacity in her husband Michel Martelly’s administration on the commission to fight hunger. As the head of that commission, critics said, Martelly required the necessary certificate — a décharge — to show that she had not misused any of the public funds in her care.

Meanwhile, the opposition also accused her of illegal voting in Haiti’s 2010 presidential elections that brought her husband to power. At the time of the elections, anyone holding dual nationality would have been ineligible to vote because Constitution amendments finally recognizing multiple nationalities had not yet been legalized.

To fight off critics, the National Palace leaked a document showing that Martelly, who was born in New York, had filled out paperwork to renounce her U.S. citizenship. Jurists in Haiti, however, disagreed about whether she still qualified. Some say she does while others argue that she would have had to give up her U.S. passport when she became an adult at 18. Meanwhile on social media Haitians pointed out that her name wasn’t among people who had renounced their U.S. citizenship in the U.S. federal registry.

Initially, Martelly was given the green light to proceed with her candidacy. But the decision was quickly appealed, and the BCEN was formed to hear the dispute. In total, the panel was tasked with ruling on 17 disputes involving 16 candidates; two of the challenges were brought against Martelly. Other potential Senate candidates who had challenges brought against them include former Senator Rudy Boulos, who like Martelly ,was born in the U.S.

The long-awaited decision on Martelly’s fate had been held up by a dispute over money. According to Haiti’s Le Nouvelliste newspaper, the six lawyers and three judges hired to advise the BCEN were demanding payment before making their decision public. The fee, according to the newspaper, amounted to $31,538 per lawyer and $25,231 per judge.

The CEP finally settled the dispute by agreeing to pay everyone $10,000 each for 30 days worth of work.

Richardson Dumel, the spokesman for Haiti’s Provisional Electoral Council (CEP), said 2,039 individuals had registered to run in the Aug. 9 parliament elections for 20 Senate seats and 118 seats in the lower Chamber of Deputies. But with dozens of other potential candidates also expected to be disqualified over technical issues, like missing paperwork, the final list of candidates has been delayed.

On Monday, Haiti began the registration for its presidential elections, which are scheduled for Oct. 25 with a runoff on Dec. 27 if no one wins the vote outright.

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