Haiti gets reluctant go ahead to rerun presidential vote

Interim President Jocelerme Privert, left, receives the election report from the president of the verification commission Francois Benoit, at the national palace in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Monday, May 30, 2016. The commission recommended throwing out the disputed results of last year’s first-round presidential election because it appeared to be tainted by fraud.
Interim President Jocelerme Privert, left, receives the election report from the president of the verification commission Francois Benoit, at the national palace in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Monday, May 30, 2016. The commission recommended throwing out the disputed results of last year’s first-round presidential election because it appeared to be tainted by fraud. AP

Haiti’s major foreign donors reluctantly gave the green light Monday to the country’s elections body to rerun last year’s contested presidential elections in October but they remain “deeply concerned” about the consequences of not having an elected president and government until February 2017.

“It is the responsibility of an elected government to address the socio-economic and humanitarian challenges Haiti is facing,” the Special Representative of the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Sandra Honoré, said in a joint statement with the ambassadors of Brazil, Canada, Spain, France, the United States, the European Union and the Special Representative of the Organization of American States.

The ambassadors, known as the “Core Group,” and their nations helped contribute to last year’s election price tag that Haiti’s interim president Jocelerme Privert said over the weekend was $100 million. The U.S. government alone contributed about $33 million including providing vehicles for Haiti’s beleaguered police force to provide security for the balloting. Only $8.2 million is left in an overall election fund, according to the United Nations Development Program resident representative in Haiti.

Kenneth Merten, the U.S. Special Coordinator for Haiti, has said it will be difficult to go before the U.S. Congress to ask for additional money for new elections. Neither Privert nor the revamped nine-member Provisional Electoral Council, or CEP, have said how much it will cost to rerun the presidential elections on Oct. 9 along with elections for a third of the Senate. If no candidate wins a majority, the presidential runoff will be held Jan. 8 along with balloting for thousands of local offices.

“The Core Group remains deeply concerned that the decision to rerun the presidential elections will have financial consequences and prolong the electoral process started in 2015,” the ambassadors said before urging “all Haitian actors to scrupulously respect the electoral calendar to organize transparent and equitable elections in an impartial manner.”

The statement was issued after the CEP announced the new elections timetable Monday along with a sweeping overhaul of the system. The government of Canada has asked for Haiti’s election to be put on the agenda of the Organization of American States Permanent Council meeting on Wednesday in Washington.

Pierre Esperance, a human rights leader in Haiti, welcomed the CEP’s announcement saying he believes it is moving in the right direction. He supported its decision to reopen the electoral list, noting that there are 500,000 new voters who recently turned 18 and they should not be denied the right to vote.

“I think the CEP is starting out well and they are showing a will to divorce themselves from arbitrariness and provide transparency,” Esperance said.

As for the international community’s concerns, Esperance said, “Democracy shouldn’t have a price.”

The statement is donors’ first joint declaration since a special verification commission transmitted its 30 day audit of the Aug. 9 legislative vote and Oct. 25 first round presidential balloting.

The commission’s 105-page report noted that Haiti’s presidential vote was so rife with fraud and irregularities that it should be rerun. Among the findings: more than 180,000 fake voter identification cards were used, more than 20,000 fingerprints weren’t valid and more than 600,000 “zombie” or untraceable votes cast.

The report also noted that 42 contested legislative elections should be re-examined and perhaps the names of the winners changed as a result of fraud including alleged payments to electoral judges.

“We need good elections,” CEP President Leopold Berlanger said at a press conference in which he announced that the CEP would accept the commission’s recommendations on the presidential vote but was still trying to determine what to do about the parliament.

With the elections incomplete after eight months, he noted, the CEP recognizes that a need to remove the “political blockade.” In the cases of the 42 legislative recommendations, a political compromise will have to be made.

Berlanger said safeguards against fraud will be adopted. Among the changes: everyone from polling supervisors to agents would be re-trained, and political party monitors and electoral observers would only be allowed to vote at the polling stations where their names appear on the voter list.

Opposition candidates and electoral observers, including some from the U.S., say the “zombie” votes and other fraud can be traced to votes cast by political party monitors known as mandataires. Accreditation cards allowed them to vote multiple times, and were sold on election days for as little as $3.

Despite the allegations, the international community said the elections were among the best that Haiti had ever had. They found no evidence of “massive fraud,” as candidates and local electoral observers had claimed.

“We need for the electoral machine... to function with more more transparency, more rigor, more strength,” Berlanger said in defending nearly 200 steps the council outlined in its calendar in hopes of renewing voters’ confidence in the elections system.

While the presidential process would be rerun, however, he said the race would not be re-opened. Instead, the 54 candidates who were on the ballot on Oct. 25 will have between Wednesday and June 23 to confirm their participation.

Political parties, who had been warned on Saturday about the pending announcement, were still weighing their options Monday as some remained determined to have former President Michel Martelly’s presidential pick, Jovenel Moise, removed from the race, even though the commission’s report did not single out any one candidate as being responsible for the fraud. Final elections results had Moise finishing with 32.8 percent of the votes to Jude Célestin’s 25.2 percent.

The former head of the state construction agency, Célestin rejected the results calling them “a ridiculous farce” and boycotted the runoff until sweeping changes were made to the electoral process.

Célestin’s stance, coupled with violent protests, prompted a second cancellation of the presidential runoff and made him as a hero in some people’s eyes. Haiti’s failure to hold the runoff on Jan. 24 also meant that Martelly was forced to depart office on his constitutionally mandated Feb. 7 date without an elected successor.

Since then, the international community has called on Haiti to complete its interrupted electoral process while pointing out that a Feb. 5 political accord had called for Privert to transfer the presidential sash to an elected president on Feb. 7.

Renald Luberice, a spokesperson for Moise, said both the candidate and the party continue to reject the commission’s recommendations and findings, and plan to resume streets mobilizations in Port-au-Prince on Tuesday. Luberice noted that with the political accord capping the interim government at 120 days, Privert’s terms expires on June 14. Luberice’s party is determined to end Privert’s term on that day. Only then, he said, will they discuss elections.

“Jocelerme Privert was supposed to hold elections on April 14 and he didn't. He was supposed to install a president on May 14 and he didn’t,” Luberice said. “Now on the eve of his departure, the CEP hurries up to publish a electoral calendar.”

“We are calling on the parliament to assume its responsibility and seek another solution,” he said. “Today it is not possible to discuss the elections with these authorities in power.”

A list of key election dates in Haiti's newly published election timetable:

From Wednesday to June 22: period for 54 presidential candidates to confirm their participation

June 23-27: presidential candidates confirm ballot photo, name and political parties

Aug. 23 - Oct. 8: campaign period open for presidential and legislative candidates

Oct. 9: first round of re-run presidential and second round of legislative elections; first round of one-third of Senate

Oct. 20 - 21: preliminary first round presidential vote and one-third Senate

Nov. 22: final results of first-round presidential and one-third of Senate

Dec. 5: final results legislative elections

Jan. 8, 2017: presidential runoffs, if no candidate receives 50 percent plus 1; runoff of Senate races; local elections and one re-run mayoral race

Jan. 14: preliminary runoff presidential results

Jan. 30: final presidential results

Feb. 7: new president sworn in

Feb. 24: final results one-third of Senate

April 2: final results of local races; electoral process ends

The full calendar can be viewed on the website of Haiti's Provisional Electoral Council at www.cephaiti.ht/

Source: CEP