By David McFadden
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti _ The banana exporter who is the leading candidate in the disputed first round of Haiti’s presidential vote said Monday that critics aren’t providing evidence to back up their allegations of “massive fraud.”
Haiti’s Provisional Electoral Council says Jovenel Moise received 33 per cent of the Oct. 25 vote to clear the packed field of 54 presidential candidates. Contested officials results have the government-backed candidate with 117,602 more votes than second-place finisher Jude Celestin, a former state construction chief.
The disputed results have brought a renewed surge of paralyzing street protests and so many broad accusations of electoral fraud from civil society and opposition groups it is not clear whether a Dec. 27 presidential runoff between the top two finishers can take place as scheduled.
At a Monday press conference, Moise asserted that Haiti’s National Human Rights Defence Network and other organizations have been making baseless accusations of widespread fraud including ballot-box stuffing and political-party representatives voting multiple times. He said there were various problems with the first round and he has made recommendations to the much-criticized Provisional Electoral Council, “but you can’t discredit the whole process.”
“The Haitian people voted for me and they put me in the first position,” said Moise, an agricultural businessman who was plucked from political obscurity by outgoing President Michel Martelly to be his successor.
Celestin and seven other candidates have formed an opposition alliance and assert that the vote and ballot-count were far too problematic to be legitimate. Since the Provisional Electoral Council refused their demands for an independent recount, they are calling for a transitional government to oversee new elections within two years unless changes are made to the council and police before the scheduled Dec. 27 runoff.
In recent days, Kenneth Merten, Haiti special co-ordinator for the U.S. State Department and a former U.S. ambassador to the country, has been meeting with Haitian government officials and the various sides in the disputed election. The U.S. contributed some $30 million to Haiti’s three-round electoral process this year.
In response to a Haitian journalist’s question, Moise told reporters that the visiting U.S. official was “not here giving me orders.” There are chronic suspicions among some Haitians that general elections are ultimately decided by international donor governments, not Haitian voters.
Last election cycle, Celestin was eliminated from the presidential runoff after the Organization of American States recommended that he be removed in favour of Martelly, who finished a close third in Haiti’s contested official results. Martelly ended up winning the presidency, taking office in May 2011.
In a Monday statement, Haiti’s human rights sector said the Provisional Electoral Council has “lost all credibility and has shown itself to be incapable of carrying out free and democratic elections.”
Haitian election authorities say the vote was a success and that fraud allegations have been properly investigated. They also say they lack the authority to appoint an independent panel to verify results.
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