|Protesters have claimed that the November elections were marred by fraud [AFP]
Haiti's ruling party has announced that it is pulling its candidate out of the presidential runoff vote following international pressure, but the candidate has not yet formally withdrawn.
The withdrawal of Jude Celestin would allow Michel Martelly, an opposition candidate and popular musician, to stand against Mirlande Manigat, a former first lady, in the ballot, which has been delayed following a dispute over the result of the first round of voting.
Unity party officials, whose faction is known as Inite locally, said on Wednesday that their decision was aimed at maintaining stability in the politically fragile country under what it deemed the threat of an embargo from the international community.
"Because Unity does not want the people to suffer even more, we chose not to provoke the international community over the election," the party said in a statement.
"We thank Jude for understanding the situation, though neither he nor we agree with the way things have happened."
The Organisation of American States (OAS) cited "irregularities" in the vote tallying after the November 28 vote and has challenged preliminary results that put Celestin, not Martelly, in the runoff.
The OAS report recommended that Martelly should advance to the second round of voting after a review of about 17 per cent of the vote.
The United Nations and international donors have also pressured the Haitian government and electoral authorities to let Martelly stand in the runoff, for which no date has yet been set.
The preliminary results sparked angry protests that left at least five people dead.
Al Jazeera's Sebastian Walker, reporting from the capital, Port-au-Prince, said it was as yet unclear how Unity's withdrawal of Celestin would be perceived by the Haitian public.
"Ever since the election happened, we've seen crowds in the streets saying that the vote itself was so flawed, that simply coming in and correcting the result, withdrawing one candidate and putting the third candidate through to the second round isn't really a very democratic way of sorting out this mess," he said.
"The decision came quite late in the day so there hasn't been much reaction so far but it remains to be seen whether this will be accepted."
Thomas Adams, the US special co-ordinator for Haiti, dismissed the idea that Washington was pushing for a particular candidate.
"The elections were widely viewed as fraudulent," he said. "We have not favoured any candidate. We favour a fair process."
Celestin, a government technocrat and protege of Rene Preval, the outgoing president, has made no public announcement so far and Haitian media said he was resisting the pressure from his party and the international community to pull out of the elections.
Legally, Celestin must withdraw himself to enable Martelly to move into the runoff.
Discontent with the once-popular Preval soared both in the streets of Haiti and in some international circles following the January 2010 earthquake over what was seen as ineffective leadership as millions suffered in homeless camps and broken buildings.
Celestin was seen as his "dauphin," or royal heir.