OAS Whitewashed Flawed Polls in Haiti, Says Watchdog Group

(IPS) – Fresh calls emerged Wednesday for Haiti to void its recent disputed presidential elections, following a new analysis from the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) showing serious and unprecedented flaws in the Nov. 28 voting process.

The CEPR analysis also challenges the Organisation of American States’ (OAS) official review of the election which was released earlier this week, calling the report “fundamentally flawed”.

The OAS recount found that the election – in which no candidate achieved 50 percent of the vote – should not be re-run, but recommended the initial results be reversed.

The change would see popular local musician Michel Martelly, instead of government candidate Jude Celestin, finish second and proceed to a run-off vote, along with former first lady Mirlande Manigat.

CEPR has rejected the OAS’s findings, saying the review was “inconclusive, statistically flawed, and indefensible”.

“This report can’t salvage an election that was illegitimate, where nearly three-quarters of the electorate didn’t vote, and where the vote count of the minority that did vote was severely compromised,” CEPR co-director Mark Weisbrot said.

CEPR research has shown major problems with the conduct of the elections and the counting of the votes, with tally sheets either discounted or missing at almost 12 percent of the voting booths.

And the independent think tank said it had been unable to find a presidential election in the western hemisphere, including Haiti, with such a low turnout, going back to 1947.

CEPR’s analysis also revealed the small margin of difference between Martelly and Celestin in the OAS recount – 0.3 percent – is too small on which to base any statistical findings.

Weisbrot told IPS the results of the OAS report were “politically, not professionally” influenced and said a credible re-run needed to take place.

He believes pressure from right-wing factions of the United States government compromised the OAS review.

“In the case of Haiti, the U.S. wants a certain outcome,” Weisbrot said. “They don’t like (current president René) Préval or anybody who is close to him at all, so they don’t want Celestin in the run-off and that could have also influenced the decision.”

“It’s not that hard to organise a credible election in Haiti, it’s just that these authorities and the international community have not been interested in democracy there. They’ve really been interested in the opposite – they want to determine who is the government,” he said.

Many Haitians boycotted the November elections, after the country’s largest political party, Fanmi Lavalas, was banned from candidacy by Haiti’s electoral commission, which is handpicked by the government.

In light of this, U.S. Congresswoman Maxine Waters has joined calls for its citizens to go back to the polls, saying the recent election was “unlikely to result in a government capable of leading recovery and development efforts”.

“The credibility of the Haitian elections was in doubt long before they actually occurred,” Waters said.

Brian Concannon, director of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, told IPS that until Haitians were given the right to vote in an election in which all candidates were allowed to run, the country was doomed for political instability.

Concannon acknowledged the difficulty OAS faced in preparing the recent review but said a run-off vote, no matter what candidates were involved, would likely fail.

“What the OAS is trying to do is rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic,” he said. “They have a very difficult situation and their response is to try and make the situation better without addressing the underlying causes of that bad situation.”

“Regardless of what the U.S. and OAS are thinking, the reality is the Haitian people are not going to accept the results coming out of these elections. The U.S. and OAS and the current Haitian government could win a short term victory by getting somebody coming out of those Nov. 28 elections and who’s inaugurated as president, but that’s not the same thing as effective ruling.”

Concannon, a former electoral observer for the OAS, said without a fair and free re-run, Haiti would endure five years of political disruption.

“Haiti was closed down for large parts of December because of political unrest and I’m deeply afraid that’s going to happen for the next five years over the presidential term – and that obviously is going to cause great problems for the Haitian people and it will prevent any effective reconstruction.”

The OAS did not return emails or phone calls requesting comment on the CEPR analysis.