Kerry stops in Haiti to discuss election preparations

PORT-AU-PRINCE— U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry stopped in Haiti's capital on Oct. 6 to discuss preparations for the country's upcoming elections and encourage people to refrain from disrupting balloting after a messy parliamentary first round in August.

In some districts, legislative elections held Aug. 9 were so plagued with disorder and voter intimidation that makeup elections will have to be held in more than two dozen constituencies. Monitors with the Organization of American States said the irregularities were not enough to invalidate overall results.

"Haiti needs governing institutions that are legitimate and representative, and those cannot come into being without free and fair elections that take part without intimidation, without violence,'' Kerry said on the grounds of Haiti's National Palace in Port-au-Prince.

Haiti will hold its first round of presidential elections on Oct. 25 at the same time as runoffs for legislative seats. With none of the 54 presidential candidates likely to dominate voting, this month's election is expected to force the two highest vote-getters into a Dec. 27 runoff to become Haiti's next leader.

With outgoing President Michel Martelly at his side, Kerry encouraged Haitians to listen to those candidates who offer "real plans'' to advance the country, noting there needs to be confidence in the political system to help attract investment and jobs.

He said the U.S. and the rest of the international community hope that the Oct. 25 elections will be a "smoother process'' than what took place in August.

In a Caribbean country that has undergone more than 30 coups in 200 years, Kerry stressed that it was only through holding elections that a "legitimate transfer of power can take place.''

Martelly thanked Kerry for Washington's support with helping to finance elections, strengthen the roughly 12,000-member national police force and boost the chronically struggling economy. The U.S. is Haiti's largest international donor, providing more than $30 million to support this year's electoral process alone.

Acknowledging that the Aug. 9 elections were "far from perfect,'' Martelly said that the upcoming vote on Oct. 25 "should be better'' organized by election authorities.

"I laud the help the United States gave us for the electoral process, which must end before the end of the year,'' said Martelly, who repeated that he would leave office in February to honor the Constitution and not in May when he was previously expected to depart. He is barred from running for a consecutive term.

Kerry stopped in Haiti on his return to Washington from Chile, where he attended the second "Our Ocean'' conference. He said the U.S. was working to finalize an agreement with Cuba on a protected marine area, among other announcements.