Haiti focuses on 'credibility of the process' ahead of elections

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- Haitian Prime Minister Evans Paul called Thursday for creation of a special commission to guarantee the credibility of the Caribbean country's elections before presidential and legislative runoffs can be held.

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In a statement posted on his Twitter account, Haiti's No. 2 official said the commission should have three days to produce its recommendations to Haiti's Provisional Electoral Council and the government.

A week-and-a-half before the scheduled Dec. 27 presidential and legislative runoffs, Paul said he advised President Michel Martelly that it's now necessary to "ensure the credibility of the process" because "transparent, participatory and inclusive" elections are a must amid deepening suspicions of official results from earlier rounds of voting.

He did not detail how many commission members would be needed, how they would be chosen or what the scope of their review would be.

An opposition alliance including Jude Celestin, who finished second in the initial round of presidential voting, has been calling for an independent review of Oct. 25 elections for weeks. But the council that oversees the electoral process has rejected the demand, suggesting that it was a political strategy and insisting the agency lacks authority to authorize a review of the results.

A spokesman for Martelly, who has been ruling by decree since January, and officials with the Provisional Electoral Council did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The prime minister's call for a special commission came hours after parliamentary opposition candidate Gerald Jean and other office-seekers told Haitian radio stations that they were approached to shell out bribes to council members and judges in an electoral court to pave the way for a legislative seat.

It also came on the heels of an appeal by the 10 sitting members of Haiti's Senate for Martelly to use a constitutional article to prevent electoral authorities from issuing final results for legislative races until a review panel could be set up to verify the integrity of elections.

Mosler Georges, executive director of the electoral council, said earlier this week that it planned to release overdue legislative results on Thursday.

The electoral council has insisted that a Dec. 27 runoff for president and parliamentary seats be held as scheduled despite deep public suspicion about the tally from two rounds of voting. Celestin has called the council's results a "ridiculous farce" and independent observers, Haitian rights groups, the religious lobby and nearly every political faction except the one led by outgoing President Michel Martelly allege fraud and manipulation in the Oct. 25 balloting and vote-counting.

Earlier this week, Celestin refused a second invitation to meet with the electoral council's president. He said it would be a waste of time unless the council was ready to permit an independent review of the elections.

He could not immediately be reached his response to Paul's recommendation.

Government-backed presidential candidate Jovenel Moise, who was plucked from political obscurity by Martelly as his chosen successor, has dismissed accusations of fraud in his favour and told reporters Wednesday that the electoral process must continue.


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