APNewsBreak: OAS says boot Haiti gov't candidate
By JONATHAN M. KATZ, Associated Press
Mon Jan 10, 5:04 pm ET
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – An international team of election experts will recommend that Haiti's government-backed candidate be eliminated from a presidential runoff ballot due to strong evidence of fraud in voting that led to riots, according to a draft of the report obtained Monday by The Associated Press.
The report by the Organization of American States team has not been released publicly but officials confirmed its conclusions. It was to be presented to President Rene Preval later Monday, foreign and Haitian sources confirmed.
The report's most important conclusions are that the disputed Nov. 28 vote should neither be thrown out entirely nor recounted, and that enough fraudulent or improper ballots should be invalidated to drop governing-party candidate Jude Celestin into third place and out of the second-round runoff.
That would favor carnival singer Michel "Sweet Micky" Martelly, a populist candidate who was in third place and out of runoff contention when results were announced last month. Former first lady and law professor Mirlande Manigat would remain in first place. All the top candidates would lose thousands of votes under the team's recommendations.
Haitian electoral officials must make the final decision on what to do, but the OAS recommendations could weigh heavily. The three top candidates all believe they should advance to a second-round vote if not declared the winner outright.
Rioting broke out in several cities when the preliminary results were announced, with Martelly's supporters blocking streets and demanding their candidate be immediately named president.
The U.S. Embassy expressed doubt over the results at the time, saying they did not match observers' polling estimates that showed Celestin in line to be eliminated. The OAS report matches that expectation.
"After a thorough statistical analysis ... the Expert Mission has determined that it cannot support the preliminary results of the presidential elections released on Dec. 7, 2010," the report said.
"Should this recommendation be implemented, the position of the candidate in third place (Martelly) would change to second and the candidate now in second place (Celestin) would move to third," it stated.
The AP obtained a copy of the report, and a foreign official with direct knowledge of the report confirmed its conclusions. A second foreign official said that the report had been completed and translated into French and that the conclusion in the draft would stand.
The sources spoke on condition of anonymity because the report had not been made public and was not supposed to be discussed until it was reviewed by Preval.
Some critics of the election say the entire vote should be thrown out because of rampant disorganization, fraud and instances of violence and voter intimidation.
Twelve of the 19 candidates, including Manigat and Martelly, joined together while polls were still open to demand the vote be tossed out. The front-runners changed tune a day later after U.N. and other officials informed them they were expected to advance to a runoff.
The Washington-based Center for Economic and Policy Research, a left-leaning think tank, said the vote should be invalidated because errors and fraud were too widespread and the party of ousted former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who is still popular in Haiti, was not allowed to participate.
"The OAS has abandoned any professional standards by certifying an election where nearly three-quarters of registered voters did not vote because the country's most popular political party was banned," said economist Mark Weisbrot. "Given the massive irregularities in that first round, it is not even possible to determine who the top two finishers were."
Celestin's campaign chief, Sen. Joseph Lambert, said the campaign would not comment because it did not have a copy of the report. The Martelly campaign also declined comment, and a Manigat spokesman did not return calls.
Preval was not expected to respond publicly until after Wednesday's one-year anniversary of the earthquake that devastated Port-au-Prince. An aide declined comment.
The second round was originally scheduled for Jan. 16 but was delayed in part because electoral officials were waiting for the results of the OAS review. Officials have said the earliest it can be held is next month.
The experts found that tens of thousands more votes than previously thought should be discarded because polling-place officials did not follow procedures or because of signs that tally sheets were altered.
According to the review, Martelly would end up in second place with 22.2 percent after having 7,150 votes ruled invalid. Celestin would drop to third place with 21.9 percent after losing 17,220 votes. Manigat would remain in first place with 31.6 percent after having 13,830 of her votes thrown out.
The team included electoral, technical and statistical experts from the United States, France, Canada, Jamaica and the OAS. It reviewed a sample representing roughly 16.9 percent of the votes cast, along with ballot boxes and bags, user access logs and other material.
The team said it decided not to recommend holding a new vote because "a new election would involve more contests and candidacies than the evidence warranted."
A new election also would be a burdensome expense for the impoverished country, "subject the Haitian people to a further lapse in constitutional governance," it added.
The team also decided against recommending a partial do-over in "certain problematic locations" or a nationwide recount.
Preval's term is scheduled to end Feb. 7, but he could remain in power until May because he was inaugurated late in 2006.