Under intense international pressure, Haiti’s election board has announced that it is excluding Jude Celestin, candidate of President Rene Preval’s INTE Party, from runoff presidential elections scheduled for March 20.
The November 28, 2010 national elections were chaotic, having taken place during a cholera epidemic and in the aftermath of the January 2010 earthquake, which killed more than 200,000 people and destroyed vast amounts of infrastructure.
The popular Fanmi Lavalas Party, headed by ex-President Aristide, was not allowed to run because of a technicality. Turnout was only 22.79 percent, and there were widespread complaints and irregularities, including ballot stuffing, intimidation and the illegitimate exclusion of thousands of people from the voting rolls.
The top-polling candidates, according to the Provisional Electoral Authority (CEF) appeared to Mirlande Manigat of the Rally of Progressive National Democrats Party with 31.37 percent, Jude Celestin of the INTE (Unity) Party with 22.48 percent, and Michel “Sweet Mickey” Martelly, of the Repons Peyizan Alliance of parties with 21.84 percent. .
Manigat is the wife of former president Leslie Manigat, who was seen as a stooge of the military when he was president for a brief period in 1988.
Martelly is a popular musician with strong ties to the disbanded military and to elements connected with the former dictators, Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier and his son, Jean Claude. He has stated that if elected he would restore the military which was disbanded by populist president Jean Bertrand Aristide. Celestin has been a functionary of the current government.
The votes had not been fully counted when all the major candidates except Celestin called for the results to be nullified because of the irregularities. However, when Manigat and Martelly found that they were pulling ahead, they withdrew from this demand.
Because of the many complaints, the Organization of American States sent in an “expert mission” to review the election results and report back to the Haitian people and the world community. The “expert mission” was composed of one Chilean, one Jamaican, two French women, four men from the United States and one Canadian.
The United States, France and Canada have been asserting the right to strong influence in Haitian affairs, which is criticized by many people in and out of Haiti; this led to widespread doubts about the impartiality of the “expert mission.”
The mission did a selective review of ballot counting, and concluded Jan. 13 that Mrs. Manigat should stay on the ballot for the runoff but Celestin should be removed and Mr. Martelly put into the runoff in his place.
The Haitian government and its elections authority initially objected to this.
The major powers put pressure on the government of President Rene Preval to remove Celestin from the lineup for the runoff election, now scheduled for March 20 with the United States freezing the multiple entry visas of some Haitian officials.
The INTE Party announced that Mr. Celestin, its candidate, was withdrawing from the runoff, but Mr. Celestin ended up opposing the decision. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton traveled to Haiti last Monday to push for a Manigat-Martelly runoff. Finally, the government of President Preval announced that Celestin would not be in the running.
Meanwhile, the surprise return of former dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier is seen as a possible attempt by him to recoup up to $5.7 million that was confiscated from his Swiss bank account and is to be handed over to the Haitian government. Read more here.
Will there be another surprise return? Ex-President Jean Bertrand Aristide, who was overthrown, for the second time, by a coup cooked up among the Haitian right and the U.S. and French governments in 2004, has also been saying for a long time he wants to return.
Last week, the Haitian Foreign Minister told the media that it is only a matter of Aristide asking for a valid Haitian passport so that he can traverse other countries on his way to Haiti from his exile in South Africa. However, some technicalities have arisen, and Aristide has not been issued the document.
Meanwhile, the possibility for further instability is high, because Preval is supposed to leave office on February 7 but the results of the runoff election will not be announced until the end of March. The betting is that a way will be found to keep Preval in office until then.