By Jacqueline Charles
Local observer groups are calling for an independent investigation into Haiti’s violence-marred Aug. 9 legislative elections, saying that recent sanctions taken against 16 candidates by elections officials do not go far enough.
The observers, led by Haiti’s leading human rights group, said the balloting was not only marred by “grave violence” but also massive fraud with ballot stuffing and people repeatedly voting because their fingers were not properly marked with ink. The process also lacked confidentiality with voters forced to vote behind “cheap” cardboard dividers and put their ballots in see threw plastic boxes.
Observers further dismissed a communiqué by the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) calling out the political parties behind some of the candidates accused of the violence. The one-page announcement shows that two parties close to President Michel Martelly, PHTK and Réseau National Bouclier Haitien, led the pack. No sanctions, however, have been announced.
Members of PHTK and Bouclier have refuted the claims, saying they are victims of an “orchestrated systemic” campaign by certain groups aimed at defacing them.
Last week, the Provisional Electoral Council published the results of the elections, announcing that the vote will need to be rerun in 25 constituencies because of violence at the polls. This also included a re-vote in any constituency where less than 70 percent of the tally sheets arrived at the voter tabulation center in Port-au-Prince. Candidates were given 72 hours to contest their showing in the election.
“The benefactors of the elections were the people who used violence, massive fraud and intimidation,” said Pierre Esperance, the head of the National Human Rights Defense Network (RNDDH).
The group, along with the National Observer Electoral Organization (CNO) and the Haitian Council of Non State Actors (CONHANE) issued a 57-page detailed report showing the disconnect between what elections officials, the international community and political parties have said about the balloting, and what their 1,500 observers saw in 728 voting centers around the country.
“We observed diverse cases of violence,” said Marie Yolene Gilles, RNDDH’s assistant program director. “Nine cases of gun violence; five cases of assassinations; two cases of attempted murder, nine cases of people who were injured by gunshot, 17 cases of people injured with rocks and bottles; 10 cases of whippings.”
Gilles also denounced the locations of many of the 1,508 voting centers, saying the “CEP decided to install voting centers anywhere.” Among the sites: private homes, public offices, clinics, even a night club.
Last week, CEP officials acknowledged there were problems with the balloting and announced measures it planned to implement ahead of the Oct. 25 legislative runoffs and presidential balloting.
They include ensuring that political party monitors receive their credentials at least 15 days ahead of the vote and plan to have a trouble-shooter at voting centers in hopes of diminishing problems. Council members also announced at a press conference that political parties were not immune from being kicked off the ballot for the behavior of their candidates.
The elections to restore parliament were a critical test for Haiti, which had delayed the vote for more than three years. And while 5 percent of voters were potentially disenfranchised by the violence and late start of the voting, it was not enough to invalidate the vote, CEP President Pierre-Louis Opont said. The observer groups Tuesday stopped short of calling for the entire elections to be invalidated, saying they have not reached that conclusion.
But Andre Michel, who is among the 55 candidates vying for the presidency, said the results in the North, Artibonite Valley and the West should be annulled.
“The number of constituencies where the vote must be redone, are enough to change elections results,” he said. “The percentage of votes that were invalidated for the West for example, is higher than the percentage of people who actually went to vote.”
The six constituencies that were eliminated in the West department, which includes Port-au-Prince, represent 18.74 percent of potential ballots that could have been cast, Michel said. That percentage is higher than the 10 percent of voters who turned out on Aug. 9 in the department to cast ballots, according to the voter participation numbers issued by elections officials. For the entire country, election day turnout was 18 percent, officials said.
While some have lauded the courage of Haiti’s Provisional Electoral Council for calling out political parties for the violence, the observer groups say more stringent measures are needed, including holding more candidates and political parties accountable while bringing charges against some individuals. Among their examples, no one in the Grand’ Anse region was removed from the ballot despite a CEP member having her car attacked. The departmental elections bureau also was nearly set on fire on the eve of the vote.
“We are asking for the process to be re-evaluated,” said Jean Gedeon of the CNO, adding that the council itself is responsible for most of the problem.