Haiti runoff vote to be delayed

Election official says holding second-round vote will not be possible until February, extending political stalemate.

    Haiti's political crisis continues with the second round of its disputed presidential elections put off, again  [Reuters]

    Haiti election officials say they will not be able to hold a presidential runoff election until late February, as they await a report on preliminary results from the country's disputed first round in November.

    The two-candidate runoff was scheduled to be held on January 16, nearly two months after the first round of voting resulted in weeks of unrest following allegations of electoral fraud.

    But election officials said on Tuesday that they need more time to prepare after the results of the recount are released.

    "It will be materially impossible to hold the run-off on January 16," Pierre-Louis Opont, director general of Haiti's Provisional Electoral Council, told the Reuters news agency.

    "From the date of the publication of the final results of the first round, we will need at least one month to hold the run-off."

    But he could not say when the final results of the November 28 first round might be announced, saying only that this would follow the report by the Organisation of American States (OAS) experts and completion of the process that deals with challenges to the results.

    Sebastian Walker, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in the capital, Port-Au-Prince, said that the announcement is not unsurprising.

    “It is not surprising if you consider the chaos that followed the vote on November 28 and the widespread claims of irregularity in voting centres across the country [which] just put the whole process into doubt. 

    "So what has happened here is that the regional experts from the OAS have now been brought in to get these votes recounted and this is what is causing the delay.

    “The question now is how this will all play out on the streets ... if you think back to the early days of December when [the election] results were put into doubt and the widespread protests that erupted across Haiti.

    "There really is a lot of confusion, no one seems to know what is going on."

    In limbo

    The outcome of Haiti's chaotic November elections has remained in limbo since violent protests greeted the December 7 preliminary results of the first round vote.

    The presidential and legislative polls were held amid confusion, fraud allegations and a raging cholera epidemic, all in the wake of a devastating earthquake that struck the country a year ago on January 12.

    There are fears the political instability will delay the handover of billions of dollars of urgently needed reconstruction funds from foreign donors.

    "Today we are at a dangerous crossroads," Rene Preval, the outgoing president, said in a Haitian Independence Day broadcast over the weekend.

    Preval has rejected accusations by opposition presidential candidates that he and his ruling Inite (Unity) coalition rigged the vote to put their contender in the second round.

    Responding to international concern over reported irregularities in the November 28 vote results, Preval requested help from the OAS and a team of OAS experts is working on verifying the preliminary tally.

    But this has delayed the original electoral timetable.

    The December 7 preliminary results put Jude Celestin, a little-known government technocrat and Preval protégé, in a second round run-off with former first lady Mirlande Manigat.

    Provisional government urged

    But popular musician Michel Martelly, whom the electoral council placed narrowly third, has rejected this and called for a second round vote to include all 18 original presidential candidates.

    Of these, a dozen demand complete cancellation of the vote, alleging massive fraud. They want Preval to resign and hand over to a provisional government when his five-year mandate formally ends on February 7.

    Preval, who has served the constitutional limit of two terms in office, has rejected this option, saying he will only hand over to a legitimately elected president.

    To allow for the possibility of election delays following the January 12 earthquake, Haiti's parliament last year passed legislation allowing Preval to stay on in office until May 14 this year if necessary, to be able to hand over to the new president once his successor was legally elected.

    In December, supporters of Martelly, a charismatic star of Haiti's Kompa dance music, staged several days of violent protests against the preliminary results, paralysing the quake-ravaged capital Port-au-Prince and several other cities.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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