Some say Haiti vote verification doesn’t go far enough

The president of Haiti’s election verification commission, Francois Benoit, speaks during a ceremony in the national palace in Port-au-Prince on Monday, May 30, 2016.
The president of Haiti’s election verification commission, Francois Benoit, speaks during a ceremony in the national palace in Port-au-Prince on Monday, May 30, 2016. AP

In the days after Haiti’s newly installed parliament took office, everyone from politicians to foreign diplomats lamented that there wasn’t one female elected among the 116 lawmakers.

Now, a special verification commission charged with auditing last year’s disputed legislative and presidential elections says there was in fact at least one lone woman — Nétlande Pierre Dérius of the Artibonite — who won, and her case along with 21 other legislature contestations should be remanded to a special electoral court for reinstatement.

The recommendations, based on a random sample of 25 percent of the results from polling stations around the country, have ignited debate in Haiti. On Tuesday, leading opposition presidential candidates called on the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) to sanction those responsible for the fraud.

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Dérius, a women’s-rights activist, echoed similar sentiments.

“I was one of the people who was excited about this commission,” Dérius, who ran for the Lower Chamber of Deputies and had her victory overturned by a National Electoral Complaints and Challenges Bureau (BCEN), said about the Independent Commission on Evaluation and Verification. “But I thought it would take the decision to put the fraudsters out; not send me back to a special BCEN to spend more energy, more money and time.”

The Dérius case was highlighted in the commission’s 105-page report, which concluded that Haiti’s interrupted electoral process was so rife with problems and fraud that the Oct. 25 first-round presidential vote should be rerun. Not only were there an estimated 21,000 fake voter identification numbers found in a random sampling, but also an equal number of fingerprints could not be validated and an estimated 448,000 votes were untraceable.

The head of the commission, Francois Benoit, called them “zombie votes.”

“If you say that zombies voted, was it only for president?” said Enold Joseph, the head of KID, the party that Dérius ran under. “There is a lack of rationale in the decisions they have taken.”

Joseph asked: If the flawed process wasn’t good enough for the presidency, why should it be good enough for the parliamentary and mayoral races, which also took place on Oct. 25? His question points to another decision the revamped CEP will have to consider as it decides what to do about the commission’s recommendations.

While the report should have vindicated Joseph, who had supported Dérius in her fight, he said the “report will create more crisis and instability.”

“We in KID believe that the CEP should not carry out the recommendations of the commission because its objective is for [President Jocelerme] Privert to stay in power longer,” he said.

Former President Michel Martelly’s PHTK political party also dismissed the report’s findings.

Attorney Gedeon Jean, who served as secretary general and spokesman for the verification commission, said he understands Haitians’ frustrations over the report’s shortcomings. The commission’s mandate, which was decided over negotiations between political parties and civil society groups, was limited to only looking at the legislative races where candidates had contested the electoral court’s decision.

The commission, he said, was not a court and lacked the competence to rule in decisions even like Dérius’, where commissioners “estimated that the BCEN had badly decided on her case.” Another female candidate Pitit Desallines’ Modeline Joseph of Plaine du Nord/Milot also had her case remanded for review.

“The process was bad; the report says that,” Jean said. “But the commission is doing responsible work. It’s mandate was precise.”

Jean said more than 150 legislative cases were brought before the commission, which required documentation and an appeal to the electoral courts before examining whether the candidate had a legitimate case.

“There were cases,” he said, “where it was evident they had stolen the candidates’ votes.”

Haiti prepares for its high-stakes, highly anticipated elections. Video by Jacqueline Charles.

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