A new survey from the Brazilian Igarape Institute, released today, indicates that official results from Haiti’s October 25 presidential election may not reflect the will of the voters. In the wake of the election, local observers and political leaders have denounced what they claim was massive fraud in favor of the governing party’s candidate, Jovenel Moïse, who came in first place with 32.8 percent of the vote according to the preliminary results. In second place was Jude Célestin with 25.3 percent and in third and fourth respectively were Moïse Jean Charles with 14.3 percent and Dr. Maryse Narcisse with 7 percent. Final results are expected this week.
But the survey, which is based on interviews with over 1,800 voters from 135 voting centers throughout all of Haiti’s ten departments, reveals a vastly different voting pattern than the official results. 37.5 percent of respondents indicated they had voted for Célestin while 30.6 percent voted for Jean Charles and 19.4 percent for Narcisse. The governing party’s Jovenel Moïse was the choice of just 6.3 percent of survey respondents. (See an AP story about the survey here.)
The official results have set up a potential runoff between Jovenel Moïse and Célestin on December 27, but Célestin has so far refused to recognize the results or accept his second-place position ahead of the second round of the elections. A coalition of eight candidates has labeled the results “unacceptable” and called on the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) to form an independent commission to audit the results and investigate allegations of fraud. After a meeting on Monday between the CEP and the G8, as the opposition coalition is known, the CEP formally rejected the proposition, claiming that the electoral decree did not allow it. Opposition groups responded by pledging to continue a growing protest movement that has seen many thousands take the streets since results were announced, threatening to derail the costly and internationally backed electoral process.
A large protest was broken up by police on Wednesday near the CEP headquarters. Police used tear gas and rubber bullets and Steven Benoit, one of the opposition presidential candidates challenging the results, suffered injuries to his head. Moïse Jean Charles, who was riding on horseback, was also reportedly injured, and yet another presidential candidate, Jean Henry Céant, was reportedly detained and threatened with arrest.
The survey appears to support calls for greater transparency in the vote counting process, which has come from not just protestors but a diverse section of Haitian society. Though the CEP has held its ground, it is facing a dire credibility crisis. Last week, a coalition of local civil society organizations released a 50-page report on the October 25 election, terming what occurred a “vast operation of planned electoral fraud.” The group, which had observers present in some 50 percent of voting centers across the country, found that the fraud primarily benefitted the governing party and its allies, but added that it “could not have been achieved without the active participation of the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP).” The coalition is backing calls for an independent commission to investigate further.
Jacceus Joseph, one of nine members of the CEP, refused to sign the official results, later telling the press that there were too many doubts about the credibility of the vote for him to do so. This week, Haitian Prime Minister Evans Paul, whose party, the Konvasyon Inite Demokratik, is seen as a close government ally, indicated in an interview with the Miami Herald that he would be open to the idea of a commission. “For me we are obliged to engage in a political discussion to find a solution to the problem in the elections,” Paul told the Herald’s Jacqueline Charles, adding that he was beginning to reach out to opposition candidates.
The fraud allegations are wide-ranging but most focus on mandataires, or political party monitors. The CEP has said it distributed more than 900,000 accreditation passes to political parties for these monitors. With the passes, monitors could vote wherever they were present, even if they were not on the electoral list. In the run-up to the election, a black market developed around these passes, selling for as little as $2.00 on the morning of the election. Local observers documented numerous instances of multiple voting and the European Union observation mission also noted that not all procedures to prevent multiple voting were followed. With only 1.6 million people voting in the election, in some areas these political party monitors made up nearly 50 percent of voters.
The true impact of these party monitors and other forms of ballot stuffing remains unknown, however. In a letter to the CEP from presidential candidate Charles Henri Baker released this week by the Miami Herald, he describes in detail how the tabulation center did not perform adequate checks to ensure that these types of fraud were detected. Monitors and poll workers were able to vote without being on the list and their names were to be recorded on a separate sheet of paper; however Baker, who visited the tabulation center multiple times, reveals that these were not properly evaluated to ensure fraud had not taken place.
The new survey, however, may be able to shed some light on how big the impact of party monitor fraud was. The survey excluded monitors from the sample, meaning that the discrepancy could be caused by the massive number of monitors who participated, legally or illegally, in the election. With hundreds of thousands of passes circulating, the impact is potentially enormous and, based on the survey results, could have impacted who is headed to the December runoff.
Despite the concerns from local observer groups and political parties, the international community has largely stayed silent after initially backing the results. The Organization of American States (OAS) indicated that the official results were consistent with a quick count it had performed on Election Day and said it would send observers for the second round vote in December. The so-called “Core Group” that is made up of large donor countries, including the United States, as well as the United Nations and OAS, also issued a statement supporting the holding of a second round between Jovenel Moïse and Célestin.
Still, another coalition of local observers, l’Observatoire Citoyen pour l’Institutionnalisation de la Démocratie, whose work is funded by the U.S. and Canada, have backed calls for greater transparency. In a statement released this week, the group urged the electoral authorities to make every effort to prevent the electoral crisis from continuing and to restore faith in the process.
The Igarape Institute survey also sheds light on how voters’ perceptions of democracy and elections have been impacted by the current process. On Election Day, over 20 percent of respondents said they were “completely” in agreement with the statement that their vote counts, but after results were announced, this dropped to just 5 percent. A similar phenomenon was observed in response to the question of whether voting determines who leads the country; the number of respondents agreeing completely dropped from 22 percent to 4 percent. “Perceived electoral corruption has a corrosive effect on Haitian citizen attitudes and faith in the democratic process,” said the survey’s lead author, Dr. Athena Kolbe.