Haiti

Haiti presidential runoff announcement spurs violent protest

FILE - In this file photo combination shows presidential candidates Jovenel Moise, left, from the PHTK political party, speaking in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Thursday Nov. 5, 2015, and presidential candidate Jude Celestin, from the LAPEH party, during a press conference in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Friday, Nov. 6, 2015. Moise and Celestin are the two top finishers in Haiti's first-round presidential election, officials said Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2015. They are scheduled to compete in a runoff vote on Dec. 27.
FILE - In this file photo combination shows presidential candidates Jovenel Moise, left, from the PHTK political party, speaking in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Thursday Nov. 5, 2015, and presidential candidate Jude Celestin, from the LAPEH party, during a press conference in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Friday, Nov. 6, 2015. Moise and Celestin are the two top finishers in Haiti's first-round presidential election, officials said Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2015. They are scheduled to compete in a runoff vote on Dec. 27. AP

Government-backed candidate Jovenel Moise will face Jude Célestin, the former head of the state construction company, in a Dec. 27 presidential runoff, the head of Haiti’s Provisional Electoral Council declared Tuesday during an announcement of the official results of last month’s first round presidential vote.

Pierre-Louis Opont made the announcement hours after the National Offices of Electoral Litigation (BCEN) rejected the demands of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s Fanmi Lavalas opposition party to eject Moise from the race because of “massive fraud” during the Oct. 25 first round balloting.

The five-judge panel did, however, order that 50 problematic and fraudulent tally sheets from polling stations across Haiti be removed from the final results. While the modification slightly changed the final percentage of votes Moise with 32.76 percent to Célestin’s received, it didn’t change their preliminary finish, Opont said.

We will need a lot of peace, we will need a lot of togetherness

Pierre-Louis Opont, CEP president

In reaction, partisans of opposition candidates accusing Moise and Martelly of orchestrating fraud — accusations Moise and his PHTK party have denied — took to the streets setting tires ablaze in planned protests. Radio reported that at least five people were injured, including two Haiti National Police officers by bullets.

“We are hoping for peace to be re-established so that the [final] rounds of elections and the presidential runoff can happen without any incidents,” Opont said in an appeal for calm. “We will need a lot of peace; we will need a lot of togetherness.”

For weeks, Fanmi Lavalas supporters as well as partisans of Célestin and third-place finisher former Sen. Moise Jean-Charles, have taken to the streets in growing and increasingly violent protests. While at first they demanded an independent verification of the vote by a commission, protesters have been increasingly calling for the departure of Martelly and a transition government to redo the elections.

“There are only two options for the streets: the removal of Jovenel or transition,” said former Sen. Jean-Hector Anacasis, spokesman for Célestin’s Lapeh political party.

Anacasis said the decision on whether Célestin will head into the runoff, or boycott, as some have called for him to do, isn’t completely up to the candidate. The decision lies, Anacasis said, in the coalition of presidential candidates backing Célestin’s call for the verification commission — and the current environment. That environment, Anacasis said, isn’t conducive to holding elections because the CEP and government lack credibility.

“No one has confidence,” he said. “You have to find a way to restore confidence in the process.”

We have no choice but to tell our supporters ‘They have the duty to fight for their vote in the streets

Gervais Charles, Fanmi Lavalas attorney

Of the 54 presidential candidates, only two legally challenged the preliminary results. On Saturday, they were given limited access to the vote Tabulation Center warehouse where a random spot-check of about 10 percent of the tally sheets revealed various discrepancies and manipulation of the vote, raising questions about why the Tabulation Center did not properly do its job. Haiti’s electoral law defines what constitutes voting irregularities and how they should be treated.

“The [National Offices of Electoral Litigation] was surprised by what they found and they were scared of what they found,” Fanmi Lavalas Attorney Gervais Charles said, noting that the polling stations were selected by the head of the court, a member of the CEP. “In all of the polling stations, not one tally sheet was valid.”

While Fanmi Lavalas plans to file a case with the Inter-American Human Rights Commission, Charles said, for now, “We have no choice but to tell our supporters they have the duty to fight for their vote in the streets.”

The announcements come on the same day that a team of U.S.-based lawyers, who observed the Oct. 25 elections, issued a report arguing that there is mounting evidence showing a clear pattern of systemic fraud. The report, which also looks at the violence and fraud-marred Aug. 9 legislative first round, paints a grim picture of a flawed, chaotic electoral process.

No one has confidence; you have to find a way to restore confidence in the process

Jean-Hector Anacasis, spokesman for Célestin’s Lapeh party

“Fraudulent elections will result in a new government that lacks legitimacy and accountability to the Haitian people and perpetuate the instability and corruption that Haiti has experienced since the 2010-11 elections,” said the National Lawyers Guild and International Association of Democratic Lawyers Delegation. “Without major corrective measures, these elections will represent a significant setback in Haiti’s long-struggle to consolidate democracy.”

Concerned about the growing violence in the intensifying protests and police reactions — two presidential candidates were hurt last week when police fired rubber bullets to disperse crowds outside CEP headquarters — foreign diplomats met Monday with President Michel Martelly. They have also met with opposition candidates in an attempt to salvage the process.

But the U.S. lawyers say the international community’s quickness to deem the elections as acceptable and play down the accusations that they were marred by political party monitors voting multiple times, ballot box stuffing and the manipulation of results at the vote Tabulation Center — have undermined Haitians’ confidence in the announced results.

Like the candidates and local elections observers, the report endorses the call for an independent five-member vote verification commission. That commission, the lawyers argue, is important given the “deep mistrust” of the CEP and Martelly’s government.

“Without a credible and thorough investigation by an independent body, Haitians will continue to question the announced results,” the report said.

Anacasis agreed. He said the independent verification still provides a small window of opportunity to bring down the tensions, which have some seriously considering calling for a general strike in the coming days to demand Martelly’s departure.

“If the international community wants to save the process, it’s never too late,” he said. “But the protests are going to intensify and the streets are one step ahead of us.”

Pierre Esperance, the head of Haiti’s largest human rights network, said the findings at the Tabulation Center only re-enforce his position that there was “massive fraud and gross irregularities.”

“There are some cases of irregularities that show a lack of training but there are irregularities that are so grave, it tells you, ‘This is something that was planned,’ ” said Esperance, whose group authored its own damning report on the elections. “For example, when someone votes and the person doesn’t sign their name, that is a voluntary will that is being manifested.”

Haiti’s deepening post-electoral crisis, he said, has now surpassed the CEP and the electoral court.

“This requires a political decision,” Esperance said.

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