It’s official: Haiti’s electoral council (CEP) confirmed yesterday that the October 25 presidential election will be rerun, with a new date set for October 9 2016. The CEP’s decision comes on the heels of a report by the Independent Electoral Verification Commission, which recommended scrapping the current results and restarting the process from scratch. The CEP, however, did not clarify whether it will adopt the commission’s recommendations to review a series of controversial BCEN rulings concerning 15 deputies’ and 2 senators’ elections.
The verification commission’s report, released last week on May 30, laid bare the failings of the electoral process as it unfolded on October 25. Commission President Francois Benoit explained that the results had been badly distorted by “zombie votes,” i.e. votes that could not be traced to any living voter, the number of which “exceeded the legitimate votes acquired by politicians.” The largest source of “untraceable votes” was the huge distribution of accreditation cards prior to the vote, which were bought and sold by parties in the lead-up to October 25 and allowed party representatives (mandataires) to vote multiple times, the report noted. The other major source of untraceable votes were voters who cast a ballot using a fake or otherwise invalid National Identification Card (CIN) number. Benoit stated that the fraud had been masterminded at a “high levels,” but did not identify who the perpetrators were.
On the whole, the commission found 628,000 untraceable votes, accounting for 40% of valid votes. As the report noted, this was “higher than the number of votes received by the first-place candidate according to the results of the CEP, higher than the total number of votes received by the second- and third-place candidates, and higher than the difference between the first- and fifth-place candidates.” In addition, only 1% of 3210 procés verbaux examined met all the critiera for acceptable tally sheets as laid out in the electoral decree. The report, however, failed to explain how the fraud that tainted the presidential race did not also affect the legislative contests on October 25.
The report’s call for a re-run of the presidential race, and the CEP’s acceptance of that recommendation, was a major blow for Jovenel Moïse and PHTK. Former president Michel Martelly’s party had opposed a verification from the beginning and denounced the commission as a plot to exclude their candidate Jovenel Moise. PHTK accused the commission of usurping the constitutional role of the CEP and urged the electoral council to disregard its findings and organize a second-round between Moïse and Jude Célestin. A party spokesman called the publication of the commission report a “non-event” and threatened that “zombies would take to the streets” to protest the findings. The Chamber of Deputies criticized the report, claiming that “it puts into question the founding democratic principles and the laws of the Republic.” The president of the Chamber who issued the statement is AAA’s Cholzer Chancy, who is close to PHTK.
There was some uncertainty as to whether the CEP would accept the commission’s recommendations. CEP President Léopold Berlanger had previously stated that the commission could not impose any decisions on the council. Intimidation was feared to be a possible factor in the council’s decision-making. CEP member Marie-Frantz Joachim’s driver was shot several times by unknown assailants on May 21, an attack many suspected was politically motivated.
The cancellation of the presidential elections was a major embarrassment for the U.S. and the UN, both of which reacted coldly to the commission’s findings. State Department spokesman John Kirby stated tersely that the U.S. had “taken note” of the report by the commission, which was convened against U.S. wishes. Kirby then demanded that the electoral process be completed as quickly as possible and issued a veiled threat to the interim authorities:
Although this is a Haitian-led process, the longer it takes for Haiti to have a democratically elected president, the longer it’s going to take for the United States to consider new elements of partnership in helping Haiti confront the mounting economic, climate, and health challenges that they continue to face today.
In an interview, Haiti Special Coordinator Kenneth Merten said he had not read the commission report and declined to comment on its conclusions, but reiterated Kirby’s warning about a possible loss of funding. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon issued a similar statement “taking note” of the commission’s report and warning that delays could “adversely affect international support to Haiti.” After the CEP’s announcement, the Core Group was even more explicit, stating that its ambassadors were “deeply concerned that the decision to rerun the Presidential elections will have financial consequences.”
Ronald Sanders, who led an OAS mission to broker a solution to Haiti’s electoral crisis in January, said there was “a certain illogic” to the reactions of the U.S. and the UN, which were “puzzling,” “confusing,” and “odd.” “Normally, the UN would also be anxious to make sure that the validity of elections in any country is verified before proceeding any further. It is puzzling, therefore, that there is a different stance in relation to these elections in Haiti.” On Twitter via its official account, the OAS stated that it “supports a Haitian solution to continue the electoral process.”
Aside from PHTK and powerful actors in the international community, the commission was well-received in Haiti, though many felt it did not go far enough. The Group of Eight (G8) candidates said that the commission “could have done better.” In the light of the “vast operation of electoral crime directed by the master’s hand” in the 2015 elections, “exemplary sanctions need to be taken” against candidates and parties guilty of committing fraud “so that this does not repeat” in the future. All of the political actors need to “reach a historical compromise” before June 14, the G8 added, in order to avoid any chaos when Privert’s 120-day term as interim president comes to an end.
Popular organizations echoed this call for legal action to be taken against those implicated in the 2015 electoral fraud. In a joint note, MODEP (Mouvement démocratique populaire), Cercle Gramsci, GREPS (Reflection Group on Social Problems), UNNOH (Alumni Association of the Ecole Normale) and MOLEGHAF (The Liberty and Equality Movement of Haitians for Fraternity) deplored the fact that the Verification Commission makes no recommendation as to the legal pursuits of those involved in electoral fraud. The popular organizations argued that it is necessary to redo all of the elections, and not just the presidential race, “in order to prevent bandits, criminals and drug dealers” from storming the Parliament. The groups also criticized the role of the Core Group in the process, seen by them, as “a financial, electoral and ethical crime.”
The Private Sector Economic Forum, a grouping of powerful Haitian businessmen, welcomed the report and hailed the “courage” and “patriotic sense” of five commission members, in a note issued on Wednesday.
In the light of these findings, nine former members of the CEP (Provisional Electoral Council), led at the time by Pierre Louis Opont, and Mosler Georges, the former Executive Director of the institution, were prohibited from leaving the country. Similarly, the two former Prime Ministers, Laurent Salvador Lamothe and Evans Paul, as well as eleven ministers in Martelly’s administration were equally included in the ban to leave the country. Those included on the ban were implicated in the mismanagement of Petro-Caribe funds as well as electoral fraud in the August 9 and October 25 elections.
Lamothe strongly opposed the interdiction, denouncing it as an “illegal, abusive and arbitrary decision” since it is only the Higher Court of Justice and not a tribunal of the common law that can impose such restrictions on former state officials. Alongside other members of Evans Paul’s administration, they issued a note of protest, against what they argued was an anti-Constitutional ruling made without sufficient justification. Following these protests and less than 48 hours after the original decision, on Wednesday evening, the Porte-au-Prince Prosecutor’s Office lifted the ban issued that forbid the former CEP counsellors and PHTK politicians to leave the country.