Haiti’s postponed presidential and legislative runoffs and elections for local offices will take place on Jan. 24, the head of the Provisional Electoral Council announced Tuesday.
Pierre-Louis Opont disclosed the date in a letter to President Michel Martelly after a meeting of the nine-member council. Twenty-four hours earlier, Opont had informed Martelly that it was impossible to organize the elections for Jan. 17 — the final date, he said, voting could be staged to guarantee the handover of power from one elected president to another in time to meet the constitutionally imposed Feb. 7 deadline.
He now says it can be done.
Opont’s new position comes as top U.S. State Department envoys Thomas Shannon and Kenneth Merten head to Haiti on Wednesday to meet with him, Martelly and top presidential finishers Jovenel Moïse and Jude Célestin. Their goal: To salvage Haiti’s electoral process, which began unraveling this week. The worrying political developments prompted U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to express concerns about next week’s planned inauguration of parliament.
“Parliament has not functioned since January 2015,” said Ban’s spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, in a statement. “In this regard, [the Secretary General] underlines the importance of inaugurating the new legislature within the constitutional time frame to ensure the renewal of democratic institutions and consolidate political stability in Haiti.”
The international community’s growing concerns over Haiti’s disputed Oct. 25 elections come on the heels of a damning report discrediting the elections council and raising questions about the integrity of the much criticized presidential and legislative vote. The report was issued Sunday by a five-member commission charged with evaluating the elections after Célestin, other opposition candidates and local observers demanded an independent verification into the vote and an assessment of the process.
Célestin has called the first-round results “a ridiculous farce,” and stipulated his conditions for participating in a second-round in a six-page letter to the commission. Among other things, he asked for 30 days to campaign and for the elections for local officials to be separated out from the presidential runoff to avoid the mess with thousands of thousands of political party monitors voting by proxy.
“This CEP doesn’t have any credibility to be making any decisions,” Célestin spokesman Gerald Germain told the Miami Herald, declining to say whether his candidate will accept the new runoff date. “We just received the commission’s report today and we are going to demand that the government apply the commission’s recommendations.”
On Tuesday, Moïse, Martelly’s hand-picked successor, made the radio rounds to outline his priorities for the country should he be elected. He noted that he was ready to sit down and talk with Célestin to move the process along. He also said he was ready to head to the polls whenever the elections were called.
Still, Haiti appears to to be moving closer to a transitional government as the political situation continued to unravel.
Weeks after the CEP announced final legislative results, Martelly had yet to publish them in the official gazette—until late Tuesday. The president of the Senate has warned that the law prohibits the seating of the newly elected lawmakers until the entire electoral process is completed. He also has asked for a verification of the vote and for the commission’s report to be applied.
With 34 days left before the end of Martelly’s five-year presidential term, there’s mounting speculation in Haiti about the fate of the presidency should Célestin officially boycott the runoff. Among the widespread questions: Will elections officials move to the next candidate in the lineup? Will Martelly remain until May 14 — the anniversary of the date he took office — even though the amended constitution doesn’t authorize an extension of his mandate? Or will the country be ruled by a transitional government? And, if that happens: Will Paul head the transition to organize the elections within three months?
Scheduled for Dec. 27, the presidential and legislative runoffs as well as local elections were postponed by the CEP until further notice. The decision was announced just days before the balloting amid the ongoing electoral crisis triggered by the lack of confidence in the elections and the CEP. The postponement of the runoff prompted both the United States and United Nations to urge Haitians to work out their differences in order to inaugurate a new president by Feb. 7.
On Tuesday, seven diplomats representing the Core Group of countries supporting Haiti issued a statement acknowledging the “efforts aimed at enhancing the credibility and transparency of the ongoing electoral process and ensuring a level playing field” with the commission’s report.
Foreign diplomats, however, reiterated their call for “state institutions and political actors alike to take all steps necessary to ensure a peaceful transfer of power to a newly elected President by the constitutionally mandated date of 7 February.”
Official results give government-backed candidate Moïse 32.8 percent of the votes compared to Célestin, the former head of the state construction agency, with 25 percent. Moïse has denied the allegations, saying that he knows “500,000 people voted” for him.
Adding to the country’s woes, an alliance of eight opposition presidential candidates, responding to the commission’s elections report, on Monday reiterated its call for the creation of a provisional government to complete the election process and the resignation of the CEP.
Though the alliance, dubbed the G-8, had refused to meet with the commission and continued to bash its composition, it noted that the report’s findings bolstered opposition claims that the vote was tainted by vote-rigging and ballot stuffing.
The report, among other things, has called for a deeper verification of the vote to establish if there was “massive fraud,” and recommends sweeping changes in the electoral machinery, including in the membership of the CEP, before a second round. Members found that the vote was marred by egregious irregularities and a high presumption of fraud. For example, 57 percent of the audited documents lacked the signature or fingerprint of voters, while only 8 percent had no irregularities. The report, however, failed to say who benefited from the alleged irregularities and fraud, prompting the opposition alliance to accuse the commission of being afraid of its own inquiry.
“The commission is unable to identify who are the candidates who have qualified for the second round and to indicate that the results obtained by each candidate involved in the race,” Samuel Madistin, an attorney and former presidential candidate, wrote on behalf of the G-8. “The cowardice of the members of the commission makes it impossible in such conditions to continue with the electoral process.”