PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – Opposition candidate Michel Martelly earned the second-highest number of votes in Haiti’s troubled Nov. 28 election – not government-backed candidate Jude Celestin, according to an investigation by the Organization of American States (OAS), which observed the election.
“The Expert Mission has determined that it cannot support the preliminary results of the presidential elections released on December 7, 2010,” reads the report, which was delivered to President René Préval on Jan. 13 and made public Jan. 18.
The report concluded 17,220 ballots cast for Celestin and 7,150 cast for Martelly should be voided due to irregularity. The difference leaves Martelly with 3,225 more votes than Celestin, but still behind law professor Mirlande Manigat who received the most votes – even after the OAS said 13,330 of the votes for Manigat should be discarded because of irregularity, leaving her with 31.6% of the vote.
If Haiti’s Electoral Council accepts the report’s recommendations, Martelly would advance to a run-off election on a yet-to-be determined date against Manigat. The runoff had been scheduled for Jan. 16, but officials had to cancel it after candidates questioned the results of the first round of voting.
Haiti’s presidential and legislative elections were riddled with “disorganization, irregularities as well as instances of ballot stuffing, intimidation of voters and vandalism of polling stations,” and 9.3% of the tabulation sheets from polling stations never appeared at all, according to the report.
Protests erupted through Port-au-Prince and across Haiti when the council announced on Dec. 7 that Celestin, not Martelly, would advance to the runoff.
President René Préval’s last day of his five-year term is Feb. 7.
“Preval’s time is limited. He should step down according to the constitution, but he is going to try to maintain power until May 14,” said Liliane Pierre-Paul, a politics reporter and news host for Radio Kiskeya in Port-au-Prince.
Préval took office on May 14, 2006 after his inauguration date was pushed back because of election-related delays.
Secretary General of the OAS José Miguel Insulza met with Préval on Jan. 18 and stressed the need for a legal resolution to the election debate.
“The mission can only make recommendations,” Insulza said at a media conference in Port-au-Prince. “The Haitian Electoral Council must decide the results of the election.”
Richardson Dumel, an Electoral Council spokesman, said he didn’t know why the OAS investigated an election that was marked by thousands of Haitians being turned away from the polls because their names were not on the registries, which included the names of those who died during the earthquake on Jan. 12, 2010.
“I don’t know what the investigation is for,” he said, adding he had not read the report.
Several Haitians said the OAS report should lead to the Electoral Council sending Manigat and Martelly to the runoff.
“It’s Préval who asked the OAS to do the investigation, so he should be obligated to accept it,” said Waly Prevlius, 29, who lives in Port-au-Prince’s Tabarre sector.
The OAS wasn’t the only organization to take a close look at the first round of voting.
The Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, which also released a report documenting the findings of its investigation into the election, said 24% of the recorded ballots were subject to irregularities or were inexplicably excluded from the official count.
The report called it an “enormous percentage,” given the extremely low 27% turnout by registered voters. Its report, which analyzed all 11,181 tabulation sheets, concluded that throwing out flawed ballots would not resolve the fundamental problem that the election excluded thousands of would-be voters from participating in the democratic process.
“It’s very complicated, the election situation. On one hand, there are more than 12 candidates asking for the annulment of the election,” said Pierre-Paul referring to the coalition of candidates who are demanding a new election altogether. “On the other hand, that’s not in the interest of the government or of (candidate) Manigat.”
Haiti’s next president will be charged with overseeing the impoverished nation’s reconstruction, which has progressed little in the year since a 7.0-magnitute earthquake destroyed its capital and surrounding area, killing as many as 300,000, according to the Haitian government.
Meanwhile, a cholera epidemic already has killed more than 3,800 and infected more than 185,000, according to the Health Ministry.
The country is spending about US$30 million on the election. But several Haitians said the money would be put to better use if it was used to fix the country’s larger problems.
“They are wasting money on these elections,” said Margaret Oguisten, 85, who sells cookies from her small shop in Delmas. “They should take the money and spend it on the people.”