PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – Haitian President Michel Martelly has defended much-criticized elections in the divided country and asserted that the opposition has spread unsubstantiated allegations about widespread electoral fraud purely to strengthen its position.
During an interview with The Associated Press, Martelly said he believed that disputed results from the October presidential round that put the government-backed contender on top for a two-candidate runoff was a genuine reflection of voters' will.
"We feel confident enough that what happened the first time will happen again because it's the vote of the people," the outgoing president said Monday on the grounds where the domed National Palace once stood before it pancaked in Haiti's 2010 earthquake.
Haiti's Provisional Electoral Council reported that Jovenel Moise of Martelly's well-financed Tet Kale party received nearly 33 percent of the Oct. 25 vote to clear the packed field of 54 presidential candidates. Official results have the political newcomer getting 117,602 more votes than second-place finisher Jude Celestin, an ex-state construction chief who was eliminated from a runoff during the last election cycle after a contested count was reviewed.
In recent weeks, growing allegations of rampant fraud have brought sometimes violent street protests and so many broad accusations from civil society, religious and opposition groups that Haiti's Dec. 27 runoffs were postponed late Monday.
For now, no immediate resolution to Haiti's electoral tensions is in sight. A new election date won't be announced until a special commission formed by presidential decree can review Haiti's electoral process and make recommendations.
On Monday, Martelly said political opponents and critics have been wildly exaggerating the extent of irregularities on Oct. 25. On a whole, he asserted, balloting was remarkably "free and fair" in a country where votes have never been easy and are often marred by violence, intimidation and other blatant irregularities.
Martelly noted that after polls closed on Oct. 25, international electoral missions and local groups hailed it as an apparent success. It contrasted sharply with an earlier legislative round in August that suffered from various violent disturbances, even though international monitors said it was not enough to disrupt the legitimacy of the overall vote.
His assertion is that the opposition was so troubled by Moise's status as the leading candidate that leading figures started denouncing the elections as a mockery of democracy. Celestin has called the first-round results with agricultural entrepreneur Moise on top a "ridiculous farce."
"It looked like the potential winner was not what the opposition expected, so the same minute, the same night, they started building that perception (of fraud)," said Martelly.
Opposition factions and some observer groups suspect that fraudsters used some of the roughly 900,000 accreditations issued for political party representatives to facilitate multiple voting. There are also accusations that electoral council officials accepted bribes to secure spots in runoffs, among other fraud allegations.
The various accusations have raised so many suspicions here and abroad that Martelly, under pressure, announced the creation of an evaluation commission to hopefully provide a way out of the impasse. He said his priority is a "credible" final round that will be recognized as legitimate.
This year's three rounds of balloting for nearly all of Haiti's public offices have been the first elections under Martelly's tenure. Despite pressure from the U.N., U.S. and others, previous efforts to hold legislative and local votes were snarled by bitter infighting between the executive and legislative branches.
Although Celestin's opposition alliance has called for resignations at the electoral council and judicial investigations, Martelly asserted that this Provisional Electoral Council has proven itself to be "strong enough and independent enough." He noted that the council was loudly praised when it rejected first lady Sophia Martelly's bid to run for Senate. The move was heralded as a sign the body known as the CEP was independent.
"(They said) that this was the best CEP, particularly at the time that they kicked my wife out of the race," he said.
Constitutionally due to leave office on Feb. 7 because he can't run for a consecutive term, Martelly told AP that his main remaining task is handing over the reins to a legitimate government. He said he's seeking compromises with Celestin's camp, sitting senators and the electoral council to ensure runoffs occur soon. He warned that some opposition factions were trying to derail elections so a transitional government could instead be put in place.
"They believe this is the only way they can get in power and also the only way they can organize elections for themselves," he said.
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