Monitors want Haiti candidate out

January 11, 2011 12:00 am

, PORT-AU-PRINCE, Jan 11 – International monitors want the ruling party candidate in Haiti\’s bitterly disputed presidential election to quit the runoff round, a diplomatic source said Monday.

The tough stance by the monitoring group from the Organization of American States (OAS) threatens a spike in tensions here on the eve of Wednesday\’s first anniversary of the disastrous January 12, 2010 earthquake.

Western diplomats say the report, which has yet to be published, must be implemented in order to resolve the wrangling that has paralyzed the election to replace President Rene Preval.

But if the Preval-backed candidate, Jude Celestin, is pressured to quit the runoff vote, Haiti risks facing a renewal of rioting that claimed five lives after last month\’s announcement of preliminary results.

The diplomatic source, who asked not to be identified, said Preval would have little option but to cave in.

"It will be very difficult for Preval to ignore this recommendation," said the source.

The first round of voting in Haiti on November 28 produced no clear winner. Celestin was awarded second place, narrowly ahead of the third-placed candidate, a popular singer called Michel Martelly.

But with Martelly claiming fraud, a planned January 16 runoff vote against first-place candidate Mirlande Manigat, a former first lady, has had to be delayed — probably until February.

The OAS, which was called in to rule on the dispute, said it was delivering its report to Preval on Monday.

According to the diplomatic source, the OAS will recommend that Martelly, not Celestin, now meet Manigat in the decisive round of voting.

Haiti has been in political turmoil for years, but the latest bout comes just as many ordinary Haitians are saying they desperately need strong government to help the country off its knees after the earthquake.

Official remembrance ceremonies marking the anniversary were starting Tuesday with a visit to a mass grave outside the capital Port-au-Prince.

Former US president Bill Clinton, who is helping coordinate international aid efforts, was arriving Tuesday to take part in anniversary events.

On Wednesday, religious services were planned at the ruins of the Port-au-Prince cathedral.

There was to be a minute of silence at 4:53 p.m., the moment when the earthquake struck last year, almost instantly killing some 220,000 people and leveling much of the already decrepit infrastructure.

However, the outside pressure on the election process means that while Haitians mourn, their politicians are likely to start intensifying their squabbling and horse-trading.

The United States indicated that the ball would be firmly in the Haitian government\’s court once the OAS report comes out.

"We await the official report. It is vitally important that the election produce a government that the people of Haiti can support," a State Department spokesman said.

The US ambassador, Kenneth Merten, said he hoped everyone in Haiti would "keep a cool head."

"I hope it will reassure the Haitian people that their voice was heard," he added.

The French ambassador, Didier Le Bret, said the OAS mission had been "independent and objective and has investigated with the aim of reaching results that are reliable and reflect reality."

"The international community… hopes that the OAS mission\’s recommendations, whatever they are, will be followed."

OAS Assistant Secretary General Albert Ramdin would not confirm the contents of the report, but said "I don\’t think anybody is going to be extremely happy."

He told AFP he expected Preval to respond to the report after a couple of days, likely after the Wednesday earthquake anniversary.

"I think we should give the Haitian authorities some time. But that doesn\’t mean infinite. We should keep in mind we have an urgency here, to bring clarity to the situation," he said.

"I believe the Haitian authorities will come to the right decision."


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