Haiti officials postpone vote set for this weekend

Haiti officials postpone vote set for this weekend

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PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — Less than a week before balloting was scheduled, Haitian authorities postponed the country's presidential and legislative runoffs because they said they needed to wait for recommendations from a special commission tasked with evaluating the widely criticized electoral process.

In a brief statement issued Monday evening, Haiti's Provisional Electoral Council said the vote scheduled for Dec. 27 was postponed until further notice. They did not provide a new date for the final round of national elections. Council spokesman Roudy Stanley Penn said a new date will be announced once a commission created by presidential decree has concluded its work.

Last week, President Michel Martelly announced that a five-member commission would assess Haiti's electoral process ahead of the runoffs that opposition factions have threatened to derail because of suspicions of widespread fraud. It was expected to take three days to conclude its review and make recommendations to the government and the electoral council.

But the review panel has not yet been installed and various opposition factions objected to the commission's members, saying that the government didn't seek consensus with the 10 sitting senators and opposition leaders before the five members were chosen. The "Group of Eight' alliance led by second-place presidential finisher Jude Celestin said it was meant merely as a "cosmetic solution."

In Monday comments to The Associated Press, Martelly said the evaluation commission is intended to provide clarity to what he asserts are baseless fraud allegations stoked by the opposition. Once the commission finishes its work, he said he's confident the country can move ahead with the final round of elections "because we want it to be credible."

He said his government has lately been in talks with electoral officials, senators and opposition figures, including Celestin's camp, to find a way out of the electoral impasse.

For weeks, the opposition alliance demanded an independent review of late October elections that it insists were rigged in favor of the government-backed presidential candidate. But the Provisional Electoral Council rejected their demands, arguing that they lacked the power to authorize a review of the official results.

Sauveur Pierre Etienne, one of eight presidential candidates who formed an opposition alliance with Celestin after preliminary results were issued last month, said Monday that it was only a matter of time before the electoral council would be forced to postpone the December vote.

"The government and CEP kept talking about the Dec. 27 date like it would happen but everyone knew that the runoffs could not take place then with so many questions," he said.

Political analysts questioned whether runoff elections could feasibly take place in late December, especially when one of two presidential candidates in the runoff is alleging rampant fraud and not campaigning.

In their final results, the Provisional Electoral Council said government-backed Jovenel Moise had nearly 33 percent of the vote compared to 25 percent for Celestin, a former state construction chief who was the government-backed candidate five years ago. Celestin has dismissed the final results as a "ridiculous farce" and alleged that the CEP was complicit in vote-rigging in favor of Moise.

The office of Prime Minister Evans Paul said an evaluation commission was expected to be installed Tuesday.

Martelly, who is blocked by the constitution from seeking a consecutive term, is due to leave office on Feb. 7.


David McFadden on Twitter: http://twitter.com/dmcfadd

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