Ruling party pulls candidate from Haitian presidential run-off
The ruling party of Haitian President Rene Preval has said it will withdraw its candidate, Jude Celestine (pictured), from the country’s presidential run-off after pressure from Western powers and the OAS over irregular first-round results.
REUTERS - Haiti’s ruling party, under intense international pressure, said on Wednesday it had agreed to pull its presidential candidate out of disputed elections, but the candidate himself had not yet formally withdrawn.
The withdrawal of Jude Celestin, candidate for the ruling INITE coalition of outgoing Haitian President Rene Preval, would allow opposition candidate and popular musician Michel Martelly to move into a second-round run-off vote.
This was the recommendation advanced, with heavy pressure from the United Nations and western donors, by a team of experts from the Organization of American States, who challenged preliminary results from the chaotic Nov. 28 elections that put Celestin, not Martelly, in the run-off.
The OAS team cited vote tallying “irregularities.”
With Celestin out, Martelly would square off in a decisive second-round vote against opposition matriarch Mirlande Manigat, whom the OAS experts confirmed as first round winner, although she did not gain enough votes to win outright. No date has been set for the second round yet.
Several INITE senators first announced on Tuesday that Celestin was pulling out, and party leaders on Wednesday repeated this in a reluctant statement.
“Even if we are certain that Jude Celestin has the number of votes necessary to pass to the second round, INITE agrees to pull him from the race as a candidate for the presidency,” said the statement signed by the party’s national coordinator, Senator Joseph Lambert, and other leaders.
But Celestin, a government technocrat and protege of Preval, has made no public announcement so far and Haitian media said he was resisting the pressure from his party and the international community to pull out of the elections.
Haiti’s Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) said so far it had not received any communication from the candidate formalizing his withdrawal from the elections race.
“The CEP has not received a letter from Celestin withdrawing,” CEP Director-General Pierre-Louis Opont said.
This left some doubts over whether Celestin would himself formally withdraw and accept the recommendation against him by the OAS experts. The electoral council is considering the OAS report and is due to give definitive election results at the end of January.
WASHINGTON WARNS, REVOKES VISAS
Martelly’s supporters rioted against the initial results last month and there were fears the electoral dispute would plunge Haiti back into political turmoil a year after a devastating earthquake. More unrest would also put at risk donor aid for the Western Hemisphere’s poorest state.
The statement from INITE, whose lawmakers appear poised to win a dominant parliamentary presence in legislative elections also held on Nov. 28, appealed to Haitians to remain calm.
After a closed-door meeting in Washington, the OAS Permanent Council issued a declaration affirming “its full support for and commitment to the constitutional framework, democratic process, and peace and stability in Haiti.”
It noted that under Haitian law, the Provisional Electoral Council would decide whether or not to apply the OAS report, but welcomed a statement from the council last week which said it would consider the OAS experts’ recommendations.
Preval, INITE and Haiti’s electoral authorities came under intense international pressure in recent weeks to accept the OAS report, which put Martelly ahead of Celestin by mere fractions of a percentage point.
In its contested Dec. 7 preliminary results from the U.N.-backed elections, Haiti’s Provisional Electoral Council put Celestin ahead of Martelly by an equally tiny margin.
The United States, a big contributor of aid funds for Haiti’s post-quake reconstruction, had warned this support could be at risk if the OAS recommendation was not heeded. Washington had also revoked the U.S. entry visas of several Haitians linked to INITE and Celestin’s campaign.