By Ben Fox
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
MIAMI _ A poll by an independent research group has found deep public suspicion of the first round of the presidential election in Haiti, a finding that is likely to fuel calls by opposition parties for a recount of the disputed results.
Teams of researchers with the Brazil-based Igarape Institute conducted exit polls on the day of the Oct. 25 election and followed up with the same voters again after preliminary results were announced on Nov. 5. They found that public confidence in the process had plummeted between the two dates, according to an analysis they planned to release Thursday.
In the election exit poll, 82 per cent of voters agreed with the statement “As far as I can see, this election is fair, there is no fraud.” But in the follow up, the conclusion was almost the opposite with nearly 90 per cent saying they disagreed with the statement.
The poll also came up with a curious result when voters were asked who they voted for among the 54 names on the ballot. Just over 6 per cent said they voted for government-backed candidate Jovenel Moise, placing him fourth. But preliminary results announced Nov. 5 said he came in first with nearly 33 per cent of the vote, putting him in a runoff with second-place finisher Jude Celestin.
It is not unusual for exit polls to vary from actual vote counts and this study does not prove the preliminary results announced by the Provisional Electoral Council are inaccurate, said Robert Muggah, research director of the institute. But he believes it does suggest a need for further scrutiny.
“At a minimum, it raises some questions about people’s perceptions about the credibility of the results,” Muggah said in a phone interview from Rio de Janeiro.
The electoral council has not released final results and has so far rejected calls by opposition leaders for a recount. The runoff is scheduled for Dec. 27. It is expected to feature Moise, a businessman who has never held political office and was picked as a successor by President Michel Martelly, against Celestin, a former head of the state-owned construction company who was defeated in the disputed presidential election in 2010.
Opposition supporters have staged repeated protests over the results since Nov. 5 as they demand a recount. Several thousand marched in the capital Wednesday until they were dispersed by police firing tear gas and rubber bullets.
Martelly’s party has denied opposition accusations that it manipulated the voting or the ballot count and has dismissed calls for a recount.
An observer mission from the Organization of American States noted some “irregularities,” but concluded that the preliminary results appeared to be in line with what they saw on election day.
The Igarape exit poll found about 4 per cent of voters witnessed what they considered fraud, which included officials improperly turning away voters, people voting multiple times or casting ballots as a proxy for other voters. Incidents of fraud were witnessed by research team members at 12 polling stations. The U.S., Canadian and Haitian researchers interviewed 1,991 people at 135 polling stations. The survey had a margin of error of 2.29 percentage points.
Igarape has conducted social science polling in Haiti for more than a decade. Athena Kolbe, a professor at the State University of New York at Brockport who is one of the authors of the report, said the exit polling for this election was part of a long-term project and they did not originally plan to release it before the Dec. 27 runoff.
But that changed after they saw the results, which suggest that people are losing faith in the electoral process, which was already fragile in Haiti.
“There needs to be some neutral investigation or intervention in the process to restore people’s confidence that their vote will count,” Kolbe said by phone from Port-au-Prince. “Otherwise people just won’t return to the polls.”