Haitian elections officials Thursday removed a convicted cocaine trafficker from the race for a seat in parliament as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry warned that the days ahead are critical to the country’s future.
“We committed, all of us, to make an extraordinary effort to help Haiti come back,” Kerry said as he recalled the devastation of the Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake before heading into a meeting with Haitian Prime Minister Evans Paul at the State Department. “Unfortunately, in the last couple of years, the politics have stymied some of that process. And it is imperative for the elections that will take place in October to be successful to be able to restore the ability, to be able to continue the momentum.”
This was Paul and Kerry’s first meeting, and it came amid increasing tensions and criticism over the staging of Haiti’s fraud and violence marred Aug. 9 legislative elections by the country’s Provisional Electoral Council. Around the country, polling stations were attacked and ballots were stuffed after candidates and their partisans thought they were losing. Polls also opened late and political parties had problems getting credentials for their their observers.
The nine-member council, known by as the CEP, has acknowledged there were problems and promised to make improvements ahead of Oct. 25 when first round of presidential, second round of legislative and local elections are scheduled. But more than a month after the August vote, elections officials are still trying to sort out how to resolve the balloting, and have yet to publish final results.
“We had a first round of elections on August 9th, which took place with some problems,” Paul said during his appearance with Kerry. “We’re aware of those problems, and we are committed to correct these problems in October during the second round, as well as the first round of the presidential election.
“What we want and we have decided,” he added, “is that next year, 2016, in January, we’ll have a democratically elected parliament, and on February 7, we will have a newly democratically elected president.”
Achieving this, however, remains problematic. As Paul made the rounds in Washington, opposition groups continued to demonstrate on the streets of Port-au-Prince demanding cancellation of the Aug. 9 vote and the resignations of elections chief Pierre-Louis Opont and President Michel Martelly.
Others, including Verite, a leading opposition party backed by former President René Préval, has said it will not continue in the process with the current CEP because it lacks credibility.
“When an electoral institution persists in continuing the electoral operations without the established truth on the violence of the first round, which prevented women to exercise fully and safely their political rights, what signal does it want to convey to us? Use violence if we want to participate in the proceedings?” said Marie Frantz Joachim, the head of the women rights group, SOFA.
Despite the criticism, the CEP has continued with electoral spending and members are in Dubai to review the printing of election ballots.
On Thursday, Opont announced that it was disqualifying legislative candidate Ernst Jeudy after the Miami Herald published a story about his 1987 conviction in a Miami-Dade County court for cocaine trafficking. Council members have also invited political parties to a meeting Friday to discuss a possible new elections calendar. Among the proposals being considered: moving the legislative runoffs to Dec. 27 and re-running the legislative races on Oct. 25 in the more than two dozen constituencies that had problems.
Along with Kerry, Paul also met with Luis Almagro, secretary general of the Organization of American States. The hemispheric body said this week that it supports the presidential elections and had a high-level mission in Haiti meeting with election officials and politicians. Next week, the chief of the OAS’ electoral observation mission, former Brazilian Minister of Foreign Affairs Celso Amorim, will visit Port-au-Prince to make preparations for observers.
The OAS, which observed the Aug. 9 vote, has acknowledged there were problems and said it has provided recommendations to help the CEP. Haitian observer missions and human rights advocates, however, say the CEP has ignored calls for an independent investigation into what happened, and failed to issue proper sanctions against those behind the violence and fraud.
Hearing the concerns, Gustave Gallon, the U.N.-appointed expert on human rights, ended his visit to Haiti this week calling on Haitians to do what they can to ensure that the Oct. 25 elections take place. Like others, however, Gallon also questioned the CEP’s handling of the vote, particularly its decision to remove university provost Jacky Lumarque from the list of 54 presidential candidates. The CEP, he said, should either publicly explain its reasoning or readmit Lumarque.
“No candidate can be excluded from the list without a solid argument,” he said.