Haitian runoff vote delay urged


Citing widespread irregularities and fraud in the first round of voting in Haiti’s Senate elections, a Washington-based think tank and a former candidate for Haiti’s presidency are separately calling for the postponement of Sunday’s runoff elections.

The demands by the Haiti Democracy Project and Charles Henry Baker come just days ahead of the runoffs for 11 senatorial seats and amid reports of election-related violence between rival political parties.

At least two people have been killed in recent days including a motorcycle-taxi driver who was shot during a clash between supporters of President René Préval’s Lespwa (”Hope”) coalition and the Struggling People’s Organization, or OPL, in the southern city of Jacmel.

The long-overdue elections would bring Haiti’s 30-member Senate to almost full capacity, and lay the political landscape for Préval’s Lespwa coalition to gain control of the chamber, setting the groundwork for him to reform Haiti’s constitution.

`PROBABLY WORSE’

None of the Senate candidates received the majority vote needed to win in the April 19 balloting, leaving 11 vacant seats up for grabs. Electoral officials reported an 11 percent voter turnout. The vote was boycotted by supporters of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, whose Fanmi Lavalas party was disqualified from the elections after failing to produce required documents.

”The elections that were held on the 19th of April were probably worse than any we have had in a long time,” said Baker, whose Respe party supported three candidates.

Haiti’s Provisional Electoral Council, or CEP, has decided to proceed with the runoffs. Officials did cancel the voting in the Central Plateau after a poll supervisor was shot. The race has not yet been rescheduled.

Following reports of ballot stuffing, the CEP disqualified many votes. But the canceled votes occured after the CEP had accepted the results, and only after opposition candidates presented their challenge, the Haiti Democracy Project said in a report it has issued demanding greater accountability by electoral officials.

The report and critics, including Baker, say officials have not gone far enough, and that some races should have been nullified. Baker said he has written to Préval, the United Nations, the Haitian parliament and the CEP requesting that signatures be verified, and all fraudulent ballots be thrown out. So far, he has gotten no response.

If the election proceeds as planned, he said his Respe party will ask voters to protest their dissatisfaction by voting blank.

”We don’t want them to sit at home, because if they do, they will vote for a candidate for them,” he said.

`LEGITIMACY’

James Morrell, project executive director of the Haiti Democracy Project, said all of the questions about irregularities, ballot stuffing and candidates with alleged criminal past “should be dealt with before you have the next round.”

He said the 40-page report has been sent to Haitian government officials. It gives detailed accounts of fraud allegations, which the group says needs to be further investigated before any more elections are held.

”No one is going to accept the legitimacy of the elections,” Morrell said. “The election returns were not really verified. Some fraud was detected and there is a lot more out there.”

MiamiHerald.com

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