Haiti is burning. It’s not the first time and it certainly will not be the last unless the administration of Rene Preval finds a credible explanation for the curious results of the Nov. 28 elections released late Tuesday night.
After much deliberation, the Provisional Electoral Council, or CEP, released the list of winners, showing the ruling party candidate for president Jude Celestin received the second largest percentage of the vote, qualifying him for a runoff with former First Lady, Mirlande Manigat.
Michel “Sweet Micky” Martelly was in third place, essentially eliminating the popular musician from the runoff , which is scheduled for mid-January.
Almost immediately hundreds of thousands of people fan across the country in violent protest. The interesting part here is that protests were not limited only to the Port-au-Prince metropolitan area. There are reports of unrests in Cap Haitien, Les Cayes and other large cities.
The results were dubious that even the American embassy in Haiti called them “inconsistent”
“The United States, together with Haiti’s international community partners, stands ready to support efforts to thoroughly review irregularities in support of electoral results that are consistent with the will of the Haitian people expressed in their votes,” the US embassy said in a statement.
According to sources in Haiti, the CEP had forward the results to some foreign embassies and President Preval, that result was vastly different than what the CEP released Tuesday.
Government officials stuffed ballots and found an additional 7,000 votes, inching Celestin into second place. Now there are negotiations for the United States to monitor a recount that can be credible and acceptable to the hungry and angry mob that has been deeply disenchanted with Preval for most of his tenure.
The elections were controversial from day one. Journalists and international observers chronicled widespread voters’ fraud and intimidation throughout the day. Even Celestin could not find his name on the ballot when he went to cast his vote. Many people interviewed had been to at least four polling stations and still couldn’t find their names.
Boxes stuffed with ballots were photographs down rivers and children played with discarded ballots as if at a McDonald’s romper room.
How has Haiti reached this impasse has confounded local and international observers. Nearly $30 million was spent to organize these elections that were held despite the logistical challenges Haiti faced.
A popularly elected government is necessary so that billions of dollars pledged to help reconstruct Haiti after the devastating earthquake could be properly channeled.
But Preval, who cannot run for re-election because of term limit, has said to fear being exiled or imprisoned if hostile opposition candidates win the presidency, according to a cable from the American Embassy, released by Wikileaks.
So Preval has orchestrated the elections and their results so that his handpicked candidate can win or if he can’t Manigat a constitutionalist will protect him. Preval was president of Haiti from 1996 to 2001, when he was seen largely as a puppet of his predecessor and successor Jean Bertrand Aristide. Preval made history as being the first Haitian former president to remain in the country and eventually got re-elected president in 2006.
The scenario that is currently unfolding in the capital is eerily similar to his ascendancy to the presidency. The CEP had manipulated the results and people took to the streets to demand a recount. A recount showed that Preval garnered more than 50 percent of the vote and a runoff was not necessary.
But Preval’s reign has been uneven at best with the low point coming in the days following the earthquake when he seemed distant and failed to connect with the misery that people were feeling. More than 1.5 million people have been left homeless and more than 40 percent of the capital has been destroyed.
He earned the ire of the population for his failure to pave the way for Aristide’s return from exile in South Africa. People thought at that time, a vote for Preval, meant a vote for the return of Aristide, who remains deeply popular in Haiti five years after his ouster amid a dubious uprising.
So now the tables have turned and the pressure is on Preval to deliver another outcome. People have vowed to continue their protest. There are many observers, particularly from the international community who think that these protests are about Martelly. But they are a cry of frustration from a people who have seen their pride and dignity trampled over and over.