Haitian election murky after report

jcharles@bradenton.comJanuary 11, 2011 

PORT-AU-PRINCE -- A popular Haitian musician should advance to a presidential runoff -- rather than the government’s candidate, an international panel of election experts recommended Monday.

The group, convened by the Organization of American States at the request of President René Préval, also said that while 50,935 votes had to be discarded because of fraud, the disputed Nov. 28 presidential elections could be salvaged if the rest of the electoral process is handled correctly and Haiti’s political forces allow that to happen.

The experts spent 10 days scrutinizing thousands of tally sheets and back-up voting documents. “After a thorough statistical analysis ...the Expert Mission has determined that it cannot support the preliminary results of the presidential elections,” according to the report, obtained by The Miami Herald.

The team said it’s verification showed that musician Michel “Sweet Micky’’ Martelly had 22.2 percent of the vote while Jude Célestin, the government candidate, received 21.9 percent. The result, which reverses the preliminary tally, puts the singer in a runoff with former first lady Mirlande Manigat, who received 31.6 percent.

But with only .3 points separating Martelly from Célestin, the results are up for debate should Préval’s political platform or Célestin choose to challenge them. Officials said 9.3 percent of the total tallies from 11,181 polling stations never arrived because of violence and fraud on voting day.

Martelly and Célestin declined to comment, saying they had not seen it.

Haitians had hoped that the highly anticipated report would have provided clarity, and a way forward for Haiti to pull itself out of a political crisis that has paralyzed the quake-battered nation and overshadowed commemorations of its tragic Jan. 12 earthquake.

But with the results non-binding -- the mission can only make recommendations, any decisions must be taken by Haiti’s electoral council -- the way forward will require compromise, according to political observers.

“If there is even a second round, I don’t know if it will be viewed as legitimate by all of the candidates,” said Robert Fatton, a Haiti expert. “If Célestin is out, you can expect trouble from that sector.”

Fatton was referring to the populist left, which has ruled Haitian politics -- albeit with some brief interruptions-- since 1987 when the country adopted a new constitution after doing away with a 29-year dictatorship the year before.

Today, with Haiti poised to swing to the populist right, many fear Préval’s supporters in the slums could return the volatile country to the insecure period of 2006-2008 when armed gangs caused street mayhem.

In the coming days, a politically vulnerable Préval will have to decide whether to ignore the panel’s recommendations, risking exile before the end of his five-year presidential term and a deeper political crisis; accept it and therefore abandoning the presidency, and instead focusing his energies on getting control of parliament; or do-away with the elections all together.

“Something has to happen because the country cannot be stuck in the situation it is now,” Fatton said. “Soon you have to have clarity as to what is the next step. It’s paralyzing everything and there is increasing discontent in Haiti, which can lead to serious instability.”

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