Friday 9 December 2016

Haiti panel to give verdict on contested presidential election

Published 29/05/2016 | 22:46

A supporter of presidential candidate Jovenel Moise holds up a sign with a message that reads in Creole
A supporter of presidential candidate Jovenel Moise holds up a sign with a message that reads in Creole "Deputies and senators the responsibility is yours" (AP)

Haitians are bracing for trouble as an electoral verification commission prepares to deliver the results of its month-long review of last year's contested presidential and legislative elections.

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The five-member panel, led by a businessman who is a former ambassador to the US, was scheduled to deliver its recommendations on Sunday to Haiti's revamped Provisional Electoral Council.

A Sunday night broadcast was scheduled on national television and radio but authorities would not say if the findings would be announced at that time.

The commission planned to formally hand over its report to the interim president at a ceremony on Monday on the grounds of Haiti's National Palace.

Commission president Pierre Francois Benoit has said a random sample of 25% of the roughly 13,000 tally sheets from polling stations would be audited. In recent days, a team of police officers could be seen at a tabulation centre examining thumbprints on ballot sheets.

It is unclear whether the verification panel's findings will provide clarity to last year's elections or if its recommendations will be accepted by Haiti's political class.

Robert Fatton, a Haitian-born politics professor at the University of Virginia, said doubts and suspicions about the commission are an indication that Haiti's electoral impasse might actually deepen.

"I think we are in for a bumpy ride," Mr Fatton told the Associated Press.

In recent days, several foreign embassies have warned their citizens in Haiti that the release of the panel's report and a scheduled announcement on Tuesday of a new election date could lead to civil unrest in coming days.

"US citizens are reminded that unrest and protests throughout Haiti could occur," the US Embassy said on Wednesday.

Interim President Jocelerme Privert, who became Haiti's caretaker leader in February after a presidential run-off was scrapped for a third time, has been trying to show he can guarantee stability as the election impasse has widened divisions in the polarised country. He has said Haiti cannot restart balloting without first restoring confidence in the electoral machinery.

International monitors who observed Haiti's presidential first round on October 25 said results putting government-backed candidate Jovenel Moise in the leading position for a two-candidate run-off appeared to be a genuine reflection of the voters' will.

But the tally was rejected by virtually all the other candidates, most notably the second-placed finisher, Jude Celestin. He called results showing Mr Moise with nearly 33% of the votes a "massive fraud" and many civil society groups expressed concern about the legitimacy of the vote.

Mr Moise's Tet Kale party opposed installing a verification panel, claiming it was illegal.

Press Association

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