By David McFadden
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti _ Haitian President Michel Martelly is defending much-criticized elections in his divided country and asserts that the opposition has spread unsubstantiated allegations about widespread electoral fraud purely to strengthen its position.
During an interview with The Associated Press, Martelly said he believed that disputed official results showing the government-backed candidate topped October’s first round presidential vote was a genuine reflection of voters’ will.
“We feel confident enough that what happened the first time will happen again because it’s the vote of the people,” the outgoing president said Monday on the grounds where the domed National Palace once stood before it pancaked in Haiti’s 2010 earthquake.
Haiti’s Provisional Electoral Council reported that Jovenel Moise of Martelly’s well-financed Tet Kale party received nearly 33 per cent of the Oct. 25 vote in a packed field of 54 presidential candidates. Official results have the agricultural entrepreneur, a political newcomer, getting 117,602 more votes than second-place finisher Jude Celestin, a former state construction chief who was a major candidate in last presidential election.
Growing allegations of rampant fraud have brought sometimes violent street protests and so many accusations from civil society, religious and opposition groups that Haiti’s Dec. 27 runoffs were postponed Monday.
For now, no immediate resolution to Haiti’s electoral tensions is in sight. Officials say a new election date won’t be announced until a special commission created by presidential decree can review the electoral process and make recommendations. A commission has not been installed.
Martelly suggested that critics have wildly exaggerated the extent of irregularities on Oct. 25. On the whole, he said, balloting was remarkably “free and fair” in a country where elections have never been easy and are often marred by violence, intimidation and other irregularities.
He noted that after polls closed, international electoral missions and local groups hailed it as an apparent success. That contrasted sharply with an earlier legislative round in August that suffered from violent disturbances, even though international monitors said they were not serious enough to disrupt the legitimacy of the overall vote.
Martelly asserted that the opposition was so troubled by Moise’s status as the leading candidate that leading figures started denouncing the elections as a mockery of democracy. Celestin has called the first-round results a “ridiculous farce.”
“It looked like the potential winner was not what the opposition expected, so the same minute, the same night, they started building that perception (of fraud),” Martelly claimed.
Opposition factions and some observer groups suspect that fraudsters used some of the roughly 900,000 accreditations issued for political party representatives to facilitate multiple voting. There are also accusations that electoral council officials accepted bribes to secure spots in runoffs, among other fraud allegations.
The various accusations have raised so many suspicions here and abroad that Martelly, under pressure, announced the creation of an evaluation commission to potentially provide a way out of the impasse. It has been dismissed as merely a “cosmetic solution” by the opposition, but Martelly says his priority is a credible final round that will be recognized as legitimate.
This year’s balloting for nearly all of Haiti’s public offices have been the first elections under Martelly’s tenure. Despite pressure from the U.N., U.S. and others, previous efforts to hold legislative and local votes were snarled by bitter infighting between the executive and legislative branches.
Although Celestin’s opposition alliance has called for resignations at the electoral council and judicial investigations, Martelly said the council has proven itself “strong enough and independent enough.” He noted that the body known as the CEP was loudly praised as independent when it rejected first lady Sophia Martelly’s bid to run for a Senate seat.
“(They said) that this was the best CEP, particularly at the time that they kicked my wife out of the race,” he said.
Martelly is constitutionally due to leave office on Feb. 7 because he can’t run for a consecutive term. He told the AP that his main remaining task is handing over the reins to a legitimate government.
He said he’s seeking compromises with Celestin’s camp, senators and the electoral council to ensure runoffs occur soon, but said that some opposition factions were trying to derail elections so a transitional government could instead be put in place.
“They believe this is the only way they can get in power and also the only way they can organize elections for themselves,” he said.
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