Haiti to redo legislative elections in 25 constituencies

In this Aug. 9, 2015 file photo, election officials count votes during parliamentary elections in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
In this Aug. 9, 2015 file photo, election officials count votes during parliamentary elections in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. AP

Balloting in Haiti’s recent violent, chaotic legislative elections will be rerun in 25 constituencies nationwide, including in the Artibonite Valley where the vote for several seats in the lower Chamber of Deputies has to be redone because of violence at the polls.

Haiti’s Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) made the announcement Thursday afternoon while also declaring a number of corrective measures it plans to take for the Oct. 25 runoff to prevent a repeat of the violence, late starts and voters’ list problems that marred the Aug. 9 legislative election. Among them: the campaigning period will extend beyond a month for candidates in the runoff and credentials for political party monitors will be available 15 days before the vote.

Officials also announced that voter turnout was a measly 18 percent countrywide with the West department, which includes Port-au-Prince, posting the lowest with 10 percent.

CEP member Nehemy Joseph also warned that the council wasn’t done taking sanctions against candidates — or political parties for the election day violence.

“There are decisions that will be taken,” he said.

Concerned that the announcement could spark violence, the Haitian National Police was deployed and United Nations military was put on stand by. Earlier in the day, several political parties held a sit-in outside of the CEP’s headquarters in Petionville while riot police kept watch.

Election officials didn’t go into specifics about who among the 1,855 made the cut for the 139 legislative seats that were up for grabs. But according to local radio reports, results show that none of the candidates for 20 Senate seats managed to be elected in the first round. Meanwhile, only four out of 1,621 candidates vying for the entire 119-member lower Chamber of Deputies managed to avoid a runoff.

Among the senatorial candidates headed into a runoff: Guy Philippe, the rebel leader who led the 2004 coup that toppled then-President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. A former top police official, Philippe is wanted in the United States on a sealed drug-trafficking indictment. Though blocked from running in the 2009 senatorial elections, Philippe and dozens of others were allowed to run this time around because of an omission in the electoral law that allowed candidates to qualify without having to produce police criminal records. Several of those candidates are headed into a runoff, scheduled for Oct. 25.

The CEP’s announcement, a day after late, ends days of suspense over how Haitian officials planned to salvage the Aug. 9 legislative elections. Joseph said council members decided to do a revote in any constituency where less than 70 percent of the tally sheets arrived at the voter tabulation center.

The violence during the $38 million vote forced the closure of 4 percent of voting centers.

While Pierre-Louis Opont, the top elections official, had said only 5 percent of voters were possibly affected, and the disruptions weren’t enough to invalidate the vote, concerns remain about voter participation. As a result of the problems, many Haitians either couldn’t vote, or didn’t even bother to make an attempt.

The vote has been considered a critical test for Haiti, which had delayed elections for more than three years and for the first time, was taking a lead role in staging the balloting. Despite calls to delay the vote until Oct. 25 to coincide with presidential elections, Opont insisted that the council was ready. Haiti has been without a functioning parliament since January, allowing Martelly to rule by decree.

Election officials had promised to announce the preliminary results on Wednesday, 10 days after the balloting. But after meeting throughout the day, they did not publish the results nor attend a press conference to offer an explanation.

Instead, the CEP released a communiqué on its website announcing that two more candidates had been kicked out of the race because of election day-related violence or inciting chaos during the vote. Earlier in the week, it announced that 14 candidates would be banned from running. The most well-known of the group is former Deputy and Senate candidate Arnel Belizaire. Belizaire is accused of firing an automatic weapon near a voting center and creating general panic.

In 2011, police arrested Belizaire despite his parliamentary immunity as a sitting lawmaker. The move immediately sparked an outcry by foreign diplomats and Martelly critics. But Belizaire soon lost supporters after he was photographed walking in an anti-government demonstration with an automatic weapon.

Those familiar with elections officials’ deliberations on Wednesday say there was debate about the timing of the publication of the preliminary results. On Friday, Haiti will kick off Carifesta XII, a nine-day, $8.7 million cultural showcase that has brought dozens of performers from around the English-speaking Caribbean, Cuba and the United States to the country.

Also, since Monday, graduating high school students have been sitting for final exams. With Thursday being the last day of testing, the education ministry also asked for a delay in publication, concerned that students would get caught in the crossfire of possible violence related to the results.

For days, there has been speculation about how political parties and their supporters would react to the news. Relatively safe, Haiti is known for its volatility, with Haitians taking to the streets in protests and setting tires ablaze to express their rage.

The international community, which had observers during the vote, acknowledged that the elections weren’t perfect, but said they had finally happened and called on Haitian officials to pursue those responsible for the violence.