Opposition candidates reject vote recount as ruling party 'trap'
Haiti's main opposition candidates on Friday refused to take part in a recount of disputed presidential results, dismissing the move as a "trap" designed to ensure that President Rene Preval's ruling party candidate, Jude Celestin, would take power.
AFP - Haiti's main opposition candidates refused to participate in a recount of disputed presidential poll results on Friday, increasing the tension on the quake-hit Caribbean nation.
Michel Martelly, who finished a disappointing third in the November 28 polls, dismissed the recount as a trap designed to ensure eventual victory for President Rene Preval's ruling party candidate.
"It was done on the instruction of president Preval so that Celestin would win," he told AFP in an interview. "He's trying to get his man in power."
Martelly missed out on the second round by less than 7,000 votes, a result he said was fraudulent.
"I don't want to be a part of this," he said. "They organized the fraud and I am positive they are prepared to do everything to remain in power. It's a trap."
Later Friday, Mirlande Manigat, the 70-year-old former first lady and academic who topped the first-round count, also said she would not sanction the promised recount of tally sheets.
The electoral commission had failed to set down any clear procedures, she objected.
"On close scrutiny, it turns out that this proposal contains neither time nor date for inviting interested parties," lawyers representing Manigat said in a statement.
"Nor does it outline a procedure to be followed in this operation," the lawyers continued. "In these circumstances, our candidate regretfully will not be able to participate in this procedure."
The announcement on Tuesday that Preval's hand-picked protege had scraped through to a run-off with Manigat, ahead of Martelly, set off three days of rioting across Haiti that left at least five people dead.
In a bid to quell the unrest and mounting international concern, the electoral commission announced on Thursday that it would recount all the tally sheets in front of all three candidates and election monitors.
The Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) was expected to issue a communique on Saturday outlining the procedure, but this has effectively been dismissed in advance by Martelly and Manigat.
Usually gridlocked, the streets of Port-au-Prince were eerily calm and devoid of traffic on Friday, with many people apparently too scared to venture out and schools and government offices remaining closed.
The head of the international monitoring mission from the OAS and CARICOM regional blocs, Colin Granderson, told AFP he expected the recount process to begin on Sunday or Monday and last three to five days.
In Washington meanwhile, a top US senator called for freezing US aid to Haiti's government and denying travel visas to its top officials to force a fair outcome to the November 28 polls.
"As if Haiti did not have enough problems, now, once again, those in power there are trying to subvert the will of the people," said Senator Patrick Leahy, who chairs the senate committee responsible for funding foreign aid.
"The United States must come down squarely in support of the Haitian people’s right to choose their leaders freely and fairly," he said.
The UN Security Council on Friday expressed "deep concern" over the violence and the fraud allegations but urged rival political groups to use "legal mechanisms" to settle their disputes.
Initial results showed Manigat, a 70-year-old academic and former first lady, in the lead with 31.37 percent (336,378 votes), Celestin second with 22.48 percent (241,462 votes) and Martelly third with 21.84 percent (234,617 votes).
If the review upholds the results, Manigat will face off on January 16 against Celestin, a 48-year-old government technocrat plucked from obscurity by Preval earlier this year to be the candidate of the ruling Unity party.
Whoever wins the run-off faces the daunting task of rebuilding a traumatized nation of 10 million that was the poorest in the Americas even before the quake and a deadly outbreak of cholera that has claimed nearly 2,200 lives.
More than one million people are still homeless after the January quake and life is a daily battle for survival.
And Haiti now appears to be on the brink of the major social unrest that many have feared ever since the earthquake.
Canada closed its embassy and the United States, which has denounced the "inconsistent results," warned its citizens against non-essential travel.
Those with the means scrambled to leave the country on the handful of flights still operating out of the international airport.
One person coming the other way was leading US conservative politician Sarah Palin, who planned to visit Haiti this weekend with an evangelical Christian relief organization, Samaritan's Purse.