Haitian President Michel Martelly’s hand-picked successor, Jovenel Moise, defended his preliminary first-place presidential finish in last month’s elections Sunday while pushing back calls for his removal or cancellation of the vote because of fraud.
“The people went out and voted the banana man and the Tabulation Center counted the tally sheets,” Moise told the Miami Herald, referring to himself by his campaign moniker, “Nèg Bannann.”
Moise visited South Florida on Sunday where he held a press conference at the Little Haiti Cultural Center in Miami and met with the diaspora. While thanking them for their support, he touted his vision as well as Martelly’s four-and-a-half years in office. He called his political rise “a phenomenon.”
“Of all the candidates, I am the only one who had a program,” said Moise, a serial entrepreneur who is now in the banana exporting business. “They gave me six weeks to do a campaign, and I did all of Haiti in six weeks.”
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While the international community has lauded Haiti’s first-round presidential and legislative runoff elections, local observers and supporters aligned with the 53 opposition candidates insist that the vote was marred by “massive fraud.” The initial results have Moise finishing with 32.8 percent of the votes to Jude Célestin’s 25.2 percent.
The accusations have triggered a post-electoral crisis and growing protests. On Wednesday two presidential candidates were injured after police fired rubber bullets to break up a protest. Two days later, a violent clash between government and opposition supporters led to the death of one protester, and another had the back of his head sliced opened with a machete.
A group of eight presidential candidates including second-place finisher Célestin has condemned the “brutality” of Haiti’s police force during the protests.
The candidates, as well as observers, have called for an independent five-member commission to verify the vote. Haiti’s nine-member Provisional Electoral Council (CEP), however, has rejected the request saying it lacks the power to form the commission. The crisis and the ensuring tensions have put at risk the scheduled Dec. 27 runoff with some opposition political parties calling for cancellation of the vote while others insist that a transition government is the only way out of the crisis.
Moments before Moise greeted the small crowd inside the Cultural Center’s gallery, representatives of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s Fanmi Lavalas political party in Port-au-Prince were holding their own meeting with the press.
The party’s presidential candidate, Dr. Maryse Narcisse, is one of only two presidential candidates who has legally challenged the results. Last week, an electoral court gave her access to verify some of tally sheets at the Tabulation Center.
“They went through all of the departments and there was not a place where there wasn’t a violation of the electoral law,” Narcisse told the Herald. She noted that in some cases the votes surpassed the number of voters at a polling stations, tally sheets weren’t signed or the list of voters was missing.
While a legal team will ultimately decide the next steps, Narcisse said the party is asking “for sanctions to be taken against all institutions, including members of the CEP, who participated in this massive fraud.”
Moise’s visit came after a controversial stop in New York during which he was greeted with applause and protest by Haitians who accused him and his PHTK party of trying to steal the Oct. 25 vote. The Miami visit was much more low-key. Miami police, however, did thwart an attempt by a small group of Lavalas protesters who were told they could not demonstrate because they lacked a permit. Despite police insistence, one tried — singer and activist Farah Juste. She was briefly arrested and then released by police.
Seemingly not phased by the controversy, Moise sought to reassure the small crowd of the legitimacy of his candidacy and of his program to help Haiti. He also dismissed an exit poll by a Brazilian firm that placed him in fourth position and said the majority of Haitians surveyed believed there was fraud in the elections.
Moise said his only doubt about the election is whether once the final results are issued by the CEP, he would be declared the outright winner of the first round or head into a runoff.
“If there will be a second round, I am prepared to campaign to sell the same vision, the same program, the same project, which is to bring the soil, the rivers, the sun together to [develop] the country,” he said. “Jovenel Moise is a guy who will continue to do all that is good in all domain, but agriculture is our locomotive.”