PORT-AU-PRINCE – Haiti’s Provisional Electoral Council was reshuffled Wednesday as four new members were sworn in and its president replaced.
The move comes as a number of opposition parties have been increasing their calls for the replacement of the entire nine-member body that overseas all of Haiti’s elections. They accuse the Council of mishandling Haiti’s most recent elections for Senate in April.
President Rene Preval rejected their demands asking instead for each of the eight sectors of Haitian society, which select the Council’s members, to either support their representatives or nominate new ones. Half voted to keep their representatives, the other to replace them.
The Convention of Political Parties and the National Council of Political Parties immediately rejected the newly formed Electoral Council calling it a power grab by President Preval and an attempt to weaken political parties. The Convention’s president, Victor Benoit, charged Preval with trying to create a dictatorship.
Both groups also said they would launch legal proceedings against all the members of the Electoral Council who oversaw elections for one third of the Senate in April.
Elections in Haiti are often contentious and marred by allegations of fraud. The most recent elections to elect a third of the Senate, which were held a year behind schedule, were no exception.
Forty candidates were barred from running, including all the candidates put forth by the Fanmi Lavalas Party (which Jean-Bertand Aristide used to head). The Electoral Council said this was for technical reasons, something former presidential candidate and Convention member Evans Paul disputes.
“I think it was a political problem,” said Paul. “You can’t explain or really justify rejecting every candidate from a political party. It’s really unbelievable.”
Violence forced the cancellation of the first round of voting in the Centre Department and in the Artibonite and South Departments, not all the ballots were counted. The Electoral Council said it was because of problems with ballot sheets, but opposition leaders saw political interference on the part of the Council.
The controversy spilled over into the Electoral Council itself when its vice president, Rodol Pierre, accused Council president, Frantz G. Verret, of falsifying election results.
In light of these problems, the Senate called for a special committee to look into allegations of fraud but its investigation hasn’t begun.
The Electoral Council, whose new mandate took effect on Wednesday, has been tasked with organizing the next elections for the National Assembly as well as for one third of the Senate. In addition, the Council must oversee indirect elections to create local, municipal and departmental assemblies.
The 1987 constitution stipulates that only after these legislative bodies are constituted can Haiti’s Provisional Electoral Council become a permanent one. Once it becomes permanent, the rules for choosing its members change, and instead of terms based on organizing a set number of elections, members are appointed for one nine year term.