Saturday, January 01, 2011
Photo by John Carroll
The New York Times
December 30, 2010
An agreement reached this week between the government of Haiti and the Organization of American States points the way out of the country’s paralyzing presidential election crisis. The deal will allow experts from the O.A.S. to re-examine the results of the Nov. 28 vote to try to clear up the uncertainty over who won second place and will go on to a January runoff.
While there is wide acceptance that the top vote-getter was Mirlande Manigat, a former first lady, there was widespread anger in Haiti — and skepticism internationally — after the national election council announced last month that Jude Célestin, the protégé of President René Préval, had narrowly beaten Michel Martelly, a popular musician, for the No. 2 spot.
Independent observers stationed across the country on Election Day — a day marred by disorganization, polling-place chaos, widespread accounts of voter intimidation and fraud — had concluded that it was Mr. Martelly who had easily bested Mr. Célestin. The United States Embassy and the United Nations issued statements shortly after the vote voicing concern about irregularities. Angry supporters of Mr. Martelly and the other losing candidates staged raucous protests that briefly paralyzed a country already stricken by January’s earthquake and a raging cholera epidemic.
The country has since calmed down, but remains in dire need of a new, legitimately elected president. There is, of course, no undoing the myriad disasters of Election Day. The answer is not a full, new election. That would be hugely complicated and costly.
Haiti and the O.A.S. have the right approach with their agreement to let the outside specialists into the national tabulation center to examine everything: tally sheets, voter rolls, written reports about irregularities and incidents on Election Day. They will be able to consult candidates and interview citizens.
They must be allowed to throw out dubious results, using standards already established by the election council. And they must report whatever they find and their decisions to the president, election council and — most importantly — the people of Haiti. Process and communication are paramount, so Haitians see that their democracy is lawful, transparent and trustworthy.
It may be hard to hold the runoff as scheduled on Jan. 16. But long delays cannot be tolerated. Mr. Préval is supposed to leave office on Feb. 7, though he could legally remain until May 14, the technical end date of his five-year term. (His inauguration in 2006 was delayed.) The country is rightly eager for a new government to handle reconstruction and contain cholera. The sooner Mr. Préval hands off the reins to a legitimately elected president, the better.