Haiti Council Starts Deliberating Possible Election Redo After Special Verification Commission Finds Evidence of Significant Electoral Fraud

Interim President Jocelerme Privert, center, arrives with the president of the special verification commission Francois Benoit, to the national palace, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Monday, May 30, 2016. The special verification commission recommended throwing out the disputed results of last year’s first-round presidential election because it appeared to be tainted by fraud. (AP Photo/Dieu Nalio Chery)
Interim President Jocelerme Privert, center, arrives with the president of the special verification commission Francois Benoit, to the national palace, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Monday, May 30, 2016. The special verification commission recommended throwing out the disputed results of last year’s first-round presidential election because it appeared to be tainted by fraud. (AP Photo/Dieu Nalio Chery)

Haiti’s electoral authorities begin deliberating Tuesday whether to annul the disputed presidential election, as recommended by a special commission that reported finding what appeared to be significant fraud and professional misconduct.

Electoral council chief Leopold Berlanger declined to comment on the verification commission’s findings Monday night, saying his panel would need until June 6 to examine the report and announce a new election calendar for this troubled country.

The Provisional Electoral Council, whose current members replaced the election officials that organized last year’s voting, has the final say on election matters.

The leader of the verification commission, Pierre Francois Benoit, told The Associated Press that members of his panel were so troubled by their month-long review that they had no choice but to recommend starting over. That would mean scrapping a presidential runoff vote that already has been postponed three times.

The panel examined 25 percent of the roughly 13,000 tally sheets from polling stations.

The commission was formed by interim President Jocelerme Privert, who took power in February amid the electoral impasse due to a widespread perception of electoral fraud.

“After digging into it, we started seeing a pattern where a lot of votes could not be traced to a voter or to a group of voters. I call them ‘zombie votes,'” Benoit told the AP.

Concurring with what Haitian observer groups said shortly after the Oct. 25 election, Benoit said numerous accreditations issued for political party representatives appeared to facilitate multiple voting because “many people voted more than once.” He said the conduct of a number of polling station workers was questionable.

While the October vote also included a slew of legislative contests, Benoit’s commission made no recommendation of new balloting for those races. Haiti’s Parliament is nearly complete from last year’s two voting rounds and getting various senators and deputies to vacate their seats would greatly complicate matters.

Privert has repeatedly said Haiti cannot restart balloting without first building confidence in the electoral machinery.

Lawmakers who named Privert interim president in February had envisioned him making way for a newly elected president on May 14. But late Monday, Privert said the electoral council has a responsibility to hold a legitimate vote so an elected leader can take power sometime in early 2017.

There was no immediate comment from U.S. officials about the call to annul the presidential vote. U.S. taxpayers contributed more than $30 million for Haiti to hold elections during this cycle.

Representatives of the Organization of American States who monitored the verification panel’s work and had said last fall’s official results looked legitimate to them also made no immediate comment.

The official tally gave first place to Jovenel Moise, the Tet Kale party candidate who was hand-picked by previous President Michel Martelly.

The results were disputed by local observer groups and virtually all the other candidates, most notably the No. 2 finisher, Jude Celestin. He has called the results showing Moise with nearly 33 percent of the votes a “massive fraud.”

Leaders of Moise’s political faction said they planned to soon hold a press conference but offered no immediate comment on the report of the verification commission, which they have dismissed as unconstitutional and illegal.

In recent days, several foreign embassies have warned their citizens in Haiti that the release of the report could lead to civil unrest.

But Port-au-Prince’s downtown remained calm, though there was a heightened presence of U.N. peacekeepers and Haitian police on the streets around the National Palace compound.

Jean Pierre, a Port-au-Prince resident who has a small wedding photography business, said he hoped Haiti’s political class accepts the findings and moves on.

“Whenever their protesters take to the streets and burn tires and smash cars it just takes the country backward,” he said.

SOURCE: AP – David McFadden