Haiti’s electoral council rejects former PM Lamothe’s presidential bid

A voter puts a ballot in the box during the election in Cite Soleil, Haiti March 20, 2011.
A voter puts a ballot in the box during the election in Cite Soleil, Haiti March 20, 2011. AFP/Getty Images

Former Haitian Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe is among three individuals whose candidacy for president is being recommended for disqualification by electoral judges.

Of the 70 people who filed to run for president, the candidacies of 23, including Lamothe, were challenged. After listening to the arguments, judges have recommended to elections officials that 13 be allowed to move forward in the process. They made no recommendations in seven of the cases.

Rejected candidates or citizens now have 72 hours to challenge the judges’ recommendations. The final decision on who gets to run lies with the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP).

Lamothe’s attorney, Salim Succar, says he plans to appeal the judges’ decision. Succar had previously gone to court and received a judge’s order that said Lamothe should be allowed to compete in the elections.

Lamothe responded to the decision by firing back on Twitter: “The CEP’s decision confirms the arbitrary nature of the electoral process in Haiti, a real threat to democracy.”

The much-anticipated announcement came on the same day that Haiti’s largest human rights group reprimanded the council for overlooking criminal allegations involving some of the candidates it qualified to run in the scheduled Aug. 9 legislative race, as well as some of the presidential hopefuls.

The National Human Rights Defense Network, known by its French acronym RNNDH, said that while the electoral council had strictly applied aspects of the constitution and electoral law to deem eligibility, it was lax on the morality issue.

“RNDDH believes that this is not only a question of morality but also a public safety issue,” it wrote.

Among those who survived challenges to their candidacies are university professor Jacky Lumarque; former senators Simon Desras and Jean-Charles Moise; entrepreneur Jude Célestin, who ran against sitting president Michel Martelly in the controversial 2010 elections; and Dr. Maryse Narcisse, another former candidate who represents former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s Fanmi Lavalas party.

There are no clear front-runners in the race, though at least one poll showed voters were likely to vote for a candidate endorsed by Martelly. Martelly, however, has several candidates in the race, including official party candidate Jovenel Moise, who also survived his challenge.

In addition to Lamothe, judges did not accept the candidacy of Anthony Bennett and Antoine Joseph.

The judges’ recommendations seem to be based on how well each person proved his or her case against the potential candidates. The ultimate decision on who gets to run in the scheduled Oct. 25 presidential balloting to replace President Michel Martelly will be up to the CEP, which has to determine whether individuals meet the legal requirements. The final presidential candidates list could be completed by Wednesday.

After repeatedly denying he had no plans to run for president, Lamothe filed papers to join the race on the final day of registration. The move quickly triggered controversy, however, because Lamothe lacked the proper legal clearance.

Under Haiti’s electoral law, anyone who has administered public funds is required to have a document known as a décharge to show that he or she did not misappropriate money. In the case of former government ministers, only parliament can grant a décharge, which is based on the findings of government auditors from the Superior Court of Auditors and Administrative Disputes.

Haiti has been without a parliament since January, leaving Martelly to rule by decree. Last week, amid an unsuccessful media blitz by Lamothe to put public pressure on Martelly and the council to accept his candidacy, Martelly finally broke his silence on the matter. Presidential spokesman Lucien Jura issued a statement saying no presidential decree would be granted to allow someone without a décharge to run.

The U.S. government was also forced to weigh in after a taped conversation of Lamothe speaking about his presidential bid was posted on social media blog sites, implying that the country supported Lamothe’s candidacy.

“The United States has no vote in these elections and does not support any candidate or group of candidates,” the U.S. Embassy said in statement.

With three rounds of elections scheduled, the international community estimates that the cost could be around $80 million. An election fund currently contains $39 million.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince issued a security message to U.S. citizens warning of protests by supporters of disqualified candidates in the coming days. Meanwhile, human rights observers said an analysis of the 1,855 candidates who have made the initial cut to run for parliament shows that at least four Senate and 31 Deputy candidates are accused of various crimes, from murder and kidnapping to rape and drug trafficking. At least two candidates had been deported from the United States “because of their involvement in wrong doing,” the report said.