Moise, Célestin top 2 finishers in Haiti’s presidential vote

President Michel Martelly's hand-picked successor Jovenel Moise votes in northern Haiti on Sunday.
President Michel Martelly's hand-picked successor Jovenel Moise votes in northern Haiti on Sunday. Special to the Miami Herald

A serial entrepreneur-turned political newcomer and an engineer who led teams of female rescuers during Haiti’s tragic Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake are likely headed for a presidential runoff scheduled for next month.

Government-backed candidate Jovenel Moise and opposition candidate Jude Célestin emerged as the two top vote getters in the Oct 25 presidential balloting to succeed President Michel Martelly, according to preliminary results released Thursday by Haiti’s Provisional Electoral Council (CEP). Moise finished with 32.8 percent of the votes to Célestin’s 25.2 percent.

The high-stakes race, which included balloting for parliament and mayors, attracted a cacophony of 54 presidential candidates, including several proteges of twice-exiled, twice-elected former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Two of them, former Sen. Moise Jean-Charles and Dr. Maryse Narcisse, who was Aristide’s chosen pick, finished third and fourth, respectively with 14.2 percent and 7.05 percent.

Moments before the results were announced, a member of Jean-Charles’ Pitit Dessalines platform, Maxo Gaspard, was shot to death near the group’s headquarters in Delmas 33. Hours later, his bloody corpse was still in a pool of blood in the street, covered with posters of Jean-Charles.

“They are attacking our supporters, and those who are responsible will pay for this,” Jean-Charles said after viewing the body. “Every time they attack us, they fight us, we will become stronger. We are prepared to defend the Haitian people. As we said, ‘Vote and watch,’ and we are asking for mobilization throughout the country. People who want to live can’t just stand with their arms crossed.”

Of the 5.8 million registered voters, 1, 538, 393 votes were cast in the election. Of those, 120,066 were invalidated for fraud and other irregularities, Provisional Electoral President Pierre-Louis Opont said.

Moise and Célestin will likely face off in the expected Dec. 27 runoff if the results stand.

“We don’t recognize these results and we will contest them,” said Jean-Hector Anacasis, spokesman for Célestin’s Lapeh (Peace) party.

There were no initial reaction from Moise’s camp.

The long-awaited announcement now sets the stage for a political and legal challenge in the coming days. Police are also on the lookout for unrest as tires began to burn in some parts of the capital after the announcement was made. Candidates have 72 hours to challenge the results, which will be heard by the National Electoral Complaints and Challenges Bureau (BCEN).

Several opposition camps have publicly announced plans to push for the removal of Moise, the hand-picked choice of Martelly, amid allegations of “systematic and massive fraud” during the vote.

On Tuesday, eight candidates including Célestin and Jean-Charles, issued a signed letter to the CEP asking members to appoint a five-member independent commission to do a deeper scrutiny of the ballot sheets to address the allegations of fraud and irregularities prior to publishing the results. The request echoed similar sentiments by a coalition of local observers that complained about ballot stuffing, and multiple votes by some of 915,675 political party monitors and observers at polling stations across the country.

The issue of the multiple votes has been at the center of the massive fraud allegations issued by a coalition of local observers. They noted that the nearly 1 million accreditation cards distributed to political party monitors and observers ahead of the vote, spurred a thriving black market for fraud. On election day, the cards sold for as little as $3 and were used by individuals to provide multiple votes to candidates.

Last week, the office of U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif, wrote to the U.S. State Department noting that they were “deeply concerned” about the possibility of fraud in the elections in Haiti. Staff called on U.S. officials to “take all necessary and appropriate action to ensure that all of the votes are counted fairly and in a transparent manner.”

Announcement of the results were delayed 48 hours by Opont, who cited the litany of complaints —162 — that were brought before a special commission consisting of its members last month to address complaints. But only one of the complaints actually had to do with the presidential race, and the rest were mostly for the legislative runoffs, whose results have been delayed.

The delay in the announcement, the allegations of massive fraud and a lack of transparency of how the votes were counted inside the Tabulation Center had fueled a climate of suspicions, rumors and tensions.

In a statement, local watchdog group, the Citizen Observatory for Institutionalizing Democracy (OCID), said that a number of weaknesses or blunders in the delicate tabulation phase “helped create a general atmosphere of suspicion and generate legitimate fears that the reality of the ballot boxes or the expression of the will of the people are being altered, in whole or in part.

“Such a climate on the eve of the publication of partial results is somewhat worrying,” OCID added.

OCID noted with concern that some ballot sheets were approved as part of the results despite lacking the proper number of signatures to confirm their validity.

Anticipating demonstrations and possible violence once results are released Thursday, Haitian police spent Wednesday removing discarded tires off the capital’s streets to limit protesters’ ability to create burning tire barricades. They remained on high alert Thursday as did U.N. blue helmet peacekeepers, which were patrolling the streets of Petionville.