HAITI SEEKS INTERNATIONAL HELP TO RESOLVE ELECTION DISPUTE
(AFP) - by Clarens Renois
PORT-AU-PRINCE – Haiti's President Rene Preval turned to the international community Tuesday to resolve a tense election stalemate that has imperiled earthquake and cholera relief efforts.
Preval asked the Organization of American States to send experts to help with a vote recount and deal with legal challenges arising from the first round of Haiti's presidential elections on November 28, which sparked violent protests.
"Faced with difficulties resulting from the first round of the elections and in the hope of reassuring all the actors, the president of the Republic asked the OAS to send two technical missions," Preval's office said in a statement.
The missions -- one to assist the vote recount and the other to help with legal challenges -- were to arrive in Port-au-Prince on Wednesday. The chief loser in the elections, popular singer Michel Martelly, called earlier Tuesday for re-vote that would include all 18 candidates -- turning the clock back to the beginning of a process already fraught with tension.
"The simplest solution in my opinion would be a single round, supervised by international and national organizations," Martelly told a press conference.
He argued that the person who won the most votes in the new round should be declared the outright winner to replace Preval. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned on Monday patience over the political deadlock was running out.
She said there was "a growing frustration... that as we're approaching the one-year anniversary of the Haitian earthquake that there hasn't been the kind of coordinated, coherent response from the government of Haiti that is called for." Clinton described a call by some in Washington to freeze US aid as a "very strong signal that we expect more and we're looking for more."
US Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy was one of the most prominent voices to suggest that the United States cut off aid to the Haitian government and deny travel visas to its top officials, as a way to compel a fair election outcome. Haiti has been struggling to get back on its feet since a massive earthquake January 12 killed 250,000 people, left 1.3 million people homeless and leveled the capital of what was already one of the world's poorest countries.
Adding to its woes is a cholera epidemic that since October has claimed the lives of nearly 2,200 people, overburdening an already fragile health system.
Public anger and frustration boiled over after the elections as supporters of Martelly rioted in several cities, clashing with UN peacekeepers. Martelly accused Preval of rigging the November vote in favor of his handpicked candidate, Jude Celestin, who unexpectedly came in second place, in a count that Washington denounced as "inconsistent" with projections.
Celestin edged out Martelly by less than 7,000 votes for a place in a run-off January 16 against Mirlande Manigat, a former first lady who gained the most votes in the first round, with 31 percent.
The Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) has said it will recount the tally sheets in the presence of the three main candidates, but Martelly has ruled out his participation in a recount, dismissing it as "a trap."
Manigat, too, is opposed to a recount.
Without the backing of Manigat and Martelly, it is hard to see how the planned recount would have the credibility needed to end the crisis. Martelly on Tuesday called for reforming the CEP to "restore confidence in the electoral process, or else the next elected president will have no popular legitimacy."
"We have a huge problem with the recount because there were as many as 3,000 fraudulent tally-sheets added to the count," Martelly, a popular 49-year-old singer of Haitian "kompa" music, said in an interview with AFP last week. "It was done on the instruction of President Preval so that Celestin would win. He's trying to get his man in power."