Haiti

Celestin says ‘No’ to Haiti presidential runoff

FILE - In this Nov. 6, 2015 file photo, presidential candidate Jude Celestin, from the LAPEH party, gives a press conference in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
FILE - In this Nov. 6, 2015 file photo, presidential candidate Jude Celestin, from the LAPEH party, gives a press conference in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. AP

Haiti presidential candidate Jude Célestin says he will not be participating in this month’s runoff elections.

“The 24th is out of the question,” Célestin told the Miami Herald on Thursday. “[President Michel] Martelly will have to do an election with just one candidate.”

Célestin’s announcement came as two top U.S. envoys departed Haiti for Washington on Thursday after failing to convince him to run, and as the U.S. State Department issued a statement welcoming Martelly’s executive order scheduling the presidential and partial legislative runoff for Sunday, Jan. 24.

“We look forward to the completion of the electoral process and encourage all Haitians to participate peacefully and calmly in the vote,” State Department spokesman John Kirby said.

Meanwhile, the Electoral Observation Mission of the Organization of American States in Haiti called the establishment of a date a “step in the right direction,” while urging the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) to factor into its preparations the recommendations of an elections evaluation commission to allow for a competitive process.

But 17 days before the balloting, Célestin said he doesn’t see any efforts being made to improve transparency in the final round by enacting the sweeping changes ordered by the five-member commission.

“The commission issued a report on the irregularities and fraud in the election,” he said. “It asked for among other things, a political dialogue. We don’t see that happening, or any of the other recommendations that the commission asked for. I also asked for a list of conditions and so far, nothing.”

Martelly issued his executive order late Wednesday, the same day the two top U.S. envoys arrived in Port-au-Prince to address the unraveling political crisis triggered by the Oct. 25 presidential and legislative elections. The day before, CEP President Pierre-Louis Opont reversed himself on the impossibility of guaranteeing a newly-elected president in time for Martelly’s Feb. 7 departure from office.

One can only imagine given past history, how intense the pressures must have been on Jude Célestin to say ‘Yes.’

Robert Fatton, Haiti analyst

The U.S. officials, Ambassador Thomas Shannon, counselor of the Department of State, and Haiti Special Coordinator Kenneth Merten, spent two days in Haiti meeting with key political leaders, including Martelly, Prime Minister Evans Paul, Célestin and government-backed runoff candidate Jovenel Moïse. They had hoped to convince Célestin during their two-hour encounter to participate in the runoff.

The former head of the state construction agency, Célestin qualified for the second round with 25 percent of the vote against top finisher Moïse with 32.8 percent. But he calls the results “a ridiculous farce,” and has demanded an inquiry into the balloting to address allegations that the vote was marred by vote rigging and ballot stuffing in favor of Moïse.

He has also demanded as a condition for his participation, sweeping changes to the electoral machinery including resignations of those accused of fraud, and 30 days to campaign.

Moïse, a banana exporter, has dismissed the fraud allegations . He said the voting irregularities that were uncovered by the commission are the result of poll workers’ incompetence. In a meeting with members of the commission, he pointed out that he and his supporters were also victims of Election Day violence on Oct. 25, and during first round legislative balloting on Aug. 9.

Rosny Desroches, spokesman for the five-member commission charged with evaluating the Oct. 25 vote, said he was disappointed that Martelly did not adopt the commission’s recommendations to improve transparency in the runoff. He noted that only one person has resigned so far, Catholic Church representative, Ricardo Augustin.

“We can’t keep playing with elections like this, where we have people who aren’t qualified, or who are defending a particular candidate or their piece of the pie,” said Desroches. “More than 80 percent of the tally sheets we examined had problems.”

Desroches said he had hoped a dialogue with the opposition would have taken place before a new election day.

“We need to have a political dialogue so we will know how we’re going to manage in the coming weeks, and the next few years in this country,” he said.

Martelly defended his decision in an address to the nation. He accused the opposition of blocking the elections and of lying about the fraud “because the results weren’t what they wanted.”

He also rejected the idea of Haiti being ruled by a transitional government after his departure, saying “on the 7 of February I, President Martelly, will hand over to another president who will emerge from this election.”

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In the spirit of compromise, he said, he agreed to remove the local elections for 7,000 contested seats in 570 municipalities in the runoff. The race has attracted 35,000 candidates.

Martelly agreed to form the commission last month, forcing the scheduled Dec. 27 runoffs to be postponed.

It’s damning report noted that the elections were marred by serious irregularities, including erroneous and missing voter registration numbers. The electoral council, it said, lacked credibility to continue with the process and a deeper verification by elections experts was needed to address local observers’ and opposition allegations of “massive fraud.”

The report’s findings showed that there was a high presumption of fraud, and the commission recommended going after elections officials involved in perpetrating the fraud.

“It was only after a lot of pressure [that the Martelly administration] accepted to organize elections that the democratic sector sees as a masquerade, a mess of a selection so that it can hold onto power with a click of friends,” Célestin said in a statement earlier this week. “We are waiting for the government to take its responsibility and put the commission’s recommendations into application without delay.”

Haiti’s “Core Group” of countries led by the United States, has made it clear that they want a second round and that the constitutionally mandated Feb. 7 date for presidential handover must be respected. That push has fueled a nationalistic sentiment in Haiti where opposition parties and democratic groups have started to meet among themselves to find “a Haitian solution,” and are pushing back on any foreign intervention.

How can they expect for the people to accept to go to elections under these conditions.

Anthony Dessources of Fanmi Lavalas opposition party

“We cannot accept foreigners coming to create a situation that is upside down,” said opposition leader Anthony Dessources of Fanmi Lavalas political party, saluting Célestin’s resistance while continuing his party’s demand for an inquiry into the vote. “How can they expect for the people to accept to go to elections under these conditions?”

Still, given the international community’s statements and this week’s high-level visit, Haiti analyst Robert Fatton said it’s clear that Célestin was, and is, under massive and contradictory political pressures.

“One can only imagine given past history, how intense the pressures must have been on Jude Célestin to say ‘Yes,’ ” said Fatton, who teaches political science at the University of Virginia.

Given Célestin’s decision not to run, Fatton said, “it is impossible to see how an election on January 24th can be credible.

“If it were to take place without Célestin, the new president would assume power with a serious lack of legitimacy and the political crisis would persist and probably escalate within a few months,” he said.

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