Celestin lays out conditions to participate in Haiti presidential runoff

Haiti presidential candidate Jude Celestin (left) with hip hop artist Wyclef Jean after Celstin voted in the Oct. 25 first round presidential elections.
Haiti presidential candidate Jude Celestin (left) with hip hop artist Wyclef Jean after Celstin voted in the Oct. 25 first round presidential elections. Courtesy of Jean-Jacques Augustin

As European Union election monitors arrived in Haiti on Tuesday to prepare for this month’s presidential runoff vote, the country’s electoral crisis deepened.

Presidential runoff candidate Jude Célestin, who has called the first round results a “ridiculous farce,” is blaming the impasse on the country’s beleaguered Provisional Electoral Council (CEP). Responding to a CEP invitation to meet, he said they don’t need a sit-down with him to plan good elections.

Still, Célestin, 53, said he’s more than happy to meet with elections officials on the organization of the runoff just as soon as a commission charged with evaluating the Oct. 25 first round vote finishes it work.

“The evaluation commission is obligatory in order to save the electoral process, to prevent the country from falling into the abyss,” Célestin said. “Today, neither me as a candidate nor you as individuals charged with organizing elections, can play with the country’s future. It’s time for us to take good decisions that will prevent the country from falling into a hole.”

Célestin’s hardline, delivered Tuesday in a four-page letter to the CEP, comes on the heels of an equally stern position by his coalition of eight presidential candidates, dubbed the G8. The group has rejected a “commission of guarantee,” offered by authorities to provide greater scrutiny to the runoff. Instead, the group reiterated its call for an independent inquiry into the vote along with other changes ahead of the runoff.

The presidency is important. But good elections are more important.

Jude Célestin, Haiti presidential runoff candidate

Célestin’s advisers have said there is no difference between the two requests, but that his call for a “commission of evaluation” goes beyond just recounting votes. There are also additional reforms that must be put in place to ensure a more credible process. The commission also must be independent, they said, because the CEP can’t evaluate itself.

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Should the demands not be met, both Célestin and the G8 have warned that Haiti risks being without a president on Feb. 7 — the constitutionally mandated date for President Michel Martelly to hand over power to an elected president.

The international community, citing the importance of the date, has rejected demands for a recount. Meanwhile, last month the CEP published the final results officially pitting Célestin, the former head of the state construction agency, against government-backed candidate Jovenel Moïse. Célestin received 25 percent of the vote while Moïse had 33 percent, the CEP said, also dismissing calls for a deeper verification.

The publication immediately sparked protest in a process that was already under fire by allegations of vote rigging, and ballot stuffing and procedural breakdowns that led to some people casting multiple ballots. In recent weeks, the widening chorus of doubt over the results’ credibility have grown from Célestin and the G8, to local election observers, human rights organizations, powerful religious leaders and U.S.-based diaspora organizations. All are calling on the CEP to provide “truth and transparency.”

“The presidency is important,” wrote Célestin, who noted the growing demands in his letter. “But good elections are more important for the development of democracy, meaning the development of the country.”

Twice the CEP has invited Célestin to meet. He has refused, reminding that the process can’t go on until the credibility problems are addressed. Moïse, who has met with the council and has been campaigning, has rejected the fraud allegations, acknowledging only that there may have been some small irregularities in the vote.

On Monday, CEP executive director Mosler Georges said technically everything is set for a Dec. 27 vote, but the fate of the runoff is up to the nine members. Hours later, the opposition announced six days of protests including for Wednesday, Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.

“The country’s situation is grave, and tomorrow it can become even sadder,” said Célestin, who has refused to campaign. “Everyday that passes without you taking the necessary decisions, the closer the country moves to falling into a hole.”

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