Haiti’s Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) announced preliminary results from the October 25 presidential elections yesterday evening, showing the government-backed Jovenel Moïse and former state construction company director Jude Célestin in the top two places, paving the way for a face-off between the two candidates in the second round of the elections scheduled for December 27.
Of the roughly 1.6 million Haitians who voted (roughly 26 percent of registered voters), Moïse received 32.8 percent of the vote while Célestin received 25.3 percent, according to the preliminary results announced by the CEP. Moïse Jean-Charles, an opposition leader, received 14.3 percent to finish in third while Dr. Maryse Narcisse of the Fanmi Lavalas party of twice-ousted Jean Bertrand Aristide came in fourth with just over 7 percent of the vote.
After violence and fraud plagued first-round legislative elections in August, more than 73 percent of registered voters stayed home on election day this time - a similar rate as what was seen in the flawed 2010 presidential elections, but far below turnout in previous presidential elections such as in 2000 and 2006, which was closer to 60 percent.
Nearly as soon as the CEP press conference ended, many leading candidates, including Jude Célestin, denounced the results and pledged to mobilize supporters in the coming days against what they allege was massive fraud in favor of the government. Small protests erupted around the capital and one supporter of Jean-Charles was killed outside of his party’s headquarters. The party has blamed the Haitian police for the death.
On Friday, all of the top four candidates held morning press conferences to state their position on the results. Jovenel Moïse, of the ruling PHTK party, was the only one not to question the results announced by the CEP. Célestin, together with seven other presidential candidates, had sent a letter to the CEP days before results were announced, denouncing massive fraud in the elections and calling for an independent commission to investigate. “We are working on this with all the candidates because we are all saying the same thing: 'This is not the people's vote and they are trying to steal the vote of the population,’” the Associated Press reported Célestin as saying at this morning’s press conference. Afterwards, supporters of his party, LAPEH, began protesting throughout the capital.
Followers of Jean-Charles’ Pitit Dessalines platform and Narcisse’s Fanmi Lavalas party also took to the streets. Haitian police have responded with tear gas to break up the protests, which are expected to continue over the coming days.
The fraud allegations have been wide-ranging but many have focused on the problem with political party monitors; some 900,000 accreditation passes were distributed before the election which may have allowed monitors to place fraudulent votes. Local observers and party representatives have denounced a black market that developed for the passes in the days leading up to the vote, with passes going for as much as $30, and as little as $2 on election day. In the West department, where over 40 percent of registered voters live, these monitors accounted for upwards of 50 percent of voters, according to observer groups.
The day before results were announced, a local observer group noted that a lack of transparency and other problems at the tabulation center where votes are counted, “helped create a general atmosphere of suspicion and generate legitimate fears that the reality of the ballot boxes or the expression of the will of the people are being altered, in whole or in part.”
In a statement released today, the group of presidential candidates termed the announced results “unacceptable,” and again called for an independent commission to investigate fraud. The announced results only reinforce the perception that “those who vote decide nothing,” the candidates said in the statement. The group characterized the current process as a “dangerous return to the past” when dictators organized elections and warned that it “threatens the stability of the country.”
Fanmi Lavalas, which is not a signatory to the statement, released a separate press note, referring to the “electoral scheme” of October 25 as a “political crime,” and giving support to a previously announced transportation worker strike that is slated to begin on Monday.
There is now a 72-hour period for parties to submit complaints to Haiti’s electoral courts, which will then be handled over the coming weeks. Final results are not expected until late November or early December. For a candidate to avoid a runoff, they must receive more than 50 percent of the vote or have a 25 percent lead over the nearest competitor, meaning that Célestin and Moïse are likely to face off in the December 27 second round, according to the released results.
But that is not a sure thing either at this point, regardless of if candidates protesting the results are successful in having their voices heard by the CEP.
The international community appears worried about a different scenario: the ruling party using a controversial interpretation of electoral rules to claim an outright victory in the first round.
In a statement released today, the Organization of American States (OAS) said that the announced results “are consistent with what the OAS Mission observed on October 25.” However, the OAS statement specifically stated that a second-round runoff was necessary. While no statement was immediately released by the Core Group of donor countries or the U.S. Embassy, a tweet sent out this morning from the embassy’s account sent a similar message. “The USA supports a second round presidential election on December 27,” the tweet read.
Nevertheless, sources inside the ruling PHTK expressed confidence that they could be able to win in the first round and at his press conference today, Moïse continually referred to himself as “president.” Once again, the deeply flawed election in August is impacting the current race. Jean Renel Senatus, a popular former prosecutor who ran for the senate seat in the West department, was awarded a first-round victory following a successful challenge with the electoral courts, which could provide precedent for the government’s challenge, according to government supporters.
The ruling came down to an interpretation of the 25-percent lead requirement. Though in every other legislative race the rule was interpreted as meaning a 25-percentage-point lead, in the case of Senatus, the courts ruled that he only needed 25 percent more votes than the second place contender. Supporters of Moïse, the government candidate, believe that because his lead over Célestin (117,602 votes) is more than 25 percent of Célestin’s total, it would allow Moïse to win outright. Complaints in the presidential race will be heard by the electoral court in the West department, the same body that ruled in favor of Senatus’ first-round win.
If this is truly the plan, however, government supporters’ math may be off. If the same calculation is applied to the presidential race as was applied to Senatus, Jovenel Moïse would only have a 23-percent lead, not enough to win outright. However from the statements of the international community, it is clear they are acting to prevent this from becoming a possibility.
While the wait for preliminary presidential election results has finally ended, the race appears far from over.