A commission charged with evaluating Haiti’s Oct. 25 presidential and legislative elections has found that egregious irregularities and a high presumption of fraud plagued the vote, while the electoral machine requires sweeping changes in order to hold a postponed runoff.
According to official results, government-backed candidate Jovenel Moïse received 32.76 percent of the votes while Jude Célestin, the former head of the state construction agency, garnered 25.29 percent. Célestin, however, called the results a “ridiculous farce” and refused to campaign.
Alleging vote-rigging and ballot-stuffing, Célestin and other opposition candidates called for an independent Haitian-led commission to probe the disputed balloting. The commission was created by President Michel Martelly on Dec. 22, five days before the postponed second round. On Sunday morning, members issued their findings, which critics say do not resolve the political crisis despite pointing out a series of major systemic problems besieging Haitian society.
For one, the report, which acknowledged problems with the electoral machine, does not call for a postponement of the second round. Both Martelly and Prime Minister Evans Paul have indicated that it must take place on Jan. 17 if Haiti is to have a new president take office by its Feb. 7 constitutionally-mandated deadline.
Instead, the report calls for greater transparency including a national dialogue, an extensive analysis of the vote to determine the real extent of the irregularities and fraud, and changes in the electoral machine. The council, known as the CEP, “no longer has the credibility to permit it to continue with the process without plunging the country into a more serious crisis,” the report says.
During a meeting with the commission, the CEP recognized the weakness in its preparation. For example, more than 60 percent of poll workers were not able to properly perform the required work. The result was “many poorly written minutes, with erasures, errors of calculation or counting,” the report says.
“The commission is in fact saying that legitimate elections are impossible by Jan. 17. If elections were to take place under current conditions, they would not resolve the existing political impasse but instead would plunge the country into a deeper crisis,” said Robert Fatton, a Haiti expert and political science professor at the University of Virginia.
Some had hoped the commission’s probe would unblock the political impasse and move the electoral process along. But some believe that its findings risk deepening the impasse. The report, for example, pointed out that voters’ signatures or fingerprints were missing from 57 percent of the audited documents. Meanwhile, voter registration numbers were missing from 31 percent of the partial voting list and were written incorrectly on another 47 percent.
Meanwhile, 60 percent of voters were allowed to vote by proxy, and the commission noted that 43 percent of the tally sheets had been modified.
While commission members visited the vote-tabulation center to audit documents, the commission’s work is more an evaluation of the electoral process rather than a verification of the 1.5 million ballots cast. As a result, the report stops short of saying who benefited most from the irregularities or fraud, a conclusion that requires more technical expertise and analysis, the commission notes.
Commission member Gedeon Jean who represents the human-rights sector, did not sign the report.
The government on Sunday acknowledged receipt of the report but did not say officially whether the runoff will still take place Jan. 17. Martelly instead “urged the relevant actors involved in the electoral process,” to work toward a reasonable solution to the crisis. This includes promoting political stability by respecting the constitutionally-mandated dates of Feb. 7 for the handover of power to a newly elected president, and Jan. 11 for the start of the 50th Legislature. Haiti has been without a functioning parliament since Jan. 11, 2015.
“Ultimately, the commission failed to make the logical recommendation that its findings lead to: a new election with a new CEP. On the other hand, how can we guarantee, given past history, that a new CEP will indeed be able to organize new elections without major fraud?” Fatton said. “The commission did not want to go there because it was haunted by the specter of its own investigation and previous elections. In short, the report does not bring us any closer to a resolution of the current crisis, it merely exposes the underbelly of the beast.”