On Tuesday night, the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) announced the preliminary results from the November 28 elections in Haiti. President Rene Preval’s party Inite (Unity) won the majority of seats in parliament. Of the presidential candidates, former first lady Mirlande Manigat placed first – with 31.37% of the vote while Jude Celestin, the Inite party candidate came in second with 22.48%.
So, we are set for a runoff between Manigat and Celestin scheduled for January 16th. But wait, not so fast. Famed musician Michel Martelly received 21.84% of the vote – a very close third, roughly 6000 votes behind. Martelly is appealing the results and many of his supporters have taken to the streets to protest what they’ve dubbed “The Selection”.
Reports of massive demonstrations, fraught by opportunistic violence, are pouring in. Some people are passionately protesting for their right to fair elections – while others are reportedly burning the headquarters of the Inite party and even the homes of rural politicians. The chaos many predicted and feared would come of an ill-run and possible fraudulent election seems to be coming to pass in the hours after the CEP announcement.
What should the U.S. government do about this? After all, our government helped to finance these elections to the tune of some $15 million, roughly half of the cost of the election. Our government — along with CARICOM and the Organization of American States — deflected warnings that an election held ten months after cataclysmic earthquake and in the midst of an unprecedented public health emergency — could lead to further upheaval.
Now, having laid the groundwork for this election, there are early, ominous signs that even the US Embassy recognizes that something has gone quite amiss in the election returns. In a statement issued on Wednesday morning calling for “calm” among “all political actors”, the Embassy promised to “thoroughly review irregularities.”
Ominously, the statement pointed out that the US is “concerned” that the results announced by the CEP are “inconsistent” with their own observations.The US cable included this rather pithy line: “The 2010 elections represent a critical test of whether the Haitian people will determine their destiny through their vote.”
True enough. But this moment also stands as a critical test of the good faith of the international community — and our US government in particular. If, in fact, there is a legitimate suspicion that the November 28 election — or the vote counting — was rigged, these results should not stand. A vigorous investigation should be conducted post haste to ensure that the right two candidates advance to the final run-off on January 16.
Some have suggested that the top three candidates — Manigat, Celestin and Martelly — should all appear in that January final election. But, how is anyone to know if any of the three finalists are bona fide finalists if there can be no corroboration that these preliminary results are verifiable.
The CEP needs to open up its books and allow international observers to verify the numbers in the coming hours and days. The US should play a constructive role in ensuring that this election that our government pressed for — and that US taxpayers helped to finance — does not go down as a strike against democracy in a nation that can ill-afford such an outcome.