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World

Haiti Bracing for Trouble as Election Panel Delivers Report

Interim President Jocelerme Privert has said Haiti cannot restart balloting without first restoring confidence in the electoral machinery

In this May 14, 2016 file photo, a supporter of the PHTK presidential candidate Jovenel Moise holds up a handmade sign with a message that reads in Creole; "Deputies and senators the responsibility is yours" during a protest march demanding the resignation of interim President Jocelerme Privert in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, photo: AP/Dieu Nalio Chery, File
2 years ago

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Haitians are bracing for trouble as an electoral verification commission delivers the results of a monthlong review of last year’s contested presidential and legislative elections.

The five-member panel, led by a businessman who is a former ambassador to the U.S., was due to give its recommendations to Haiti’s revamped Provisional Electoral Council on Sunday. The commission then is scheduled to hand its report to the interim president at a Monday afternoon ceremony on the grounds of the National Palace.

Government officials would not comment on when the report would be made public.

Commission president Pierre Francois Benoit has said a random sample of 25 percent of the roughly 13,000 tally sheets from polling stations would be audited. In recent days, a team of police officers could be seen at a tabulation center examining thumbprints on ballot sheets.

In this April 28 file photo, supporters of the PHTK presidential candidate Jovenel Moise march to the parliament building in a protest to demand the government restart the electoral process for a presidential runoff that has been postponed three times, in Port-au-Prince. Photo: AP/Dieu Nalio Chery

In this April 28 file photo, supporters of the PHTK presidential candidate Jovenel Moise march to the parliament building in a protest to demand the government restart the electoral process for a presidential runoff that has been postponed three times, in Port-au-Prince. Photo: AP/Dieu Nalio Chery

It’s far from clear whether the verification panel’s findings will provide clarity to last year’s elections or if its recommendations will be accepted by Haiti’s political class.

Robert Fatton, a Haitian-born politics professor at the University of Virginia and the author of “The Roots of Haitian Despotism,” said doubts and suspicions about the commission are an indication that Haiti’s electoral impasse might actually deepen.

“I think we are in for a bumpy ride,” Fatton said in an email to The Associated Press.

In recent days, several foreign embassies have warned their citizens in Haiti that the release of the panel’s report and a scheduled Tuesday announcement of a new election date could lead to civil unrest in coming days.

“U.S. citizens are reminded that unrest and protests throughout Haiti could occur,” the U.S. Embassy said in a security message Wednesday.

For residents of Haiti’s capital, life goes on. Tire-burning roadblocks and other signs of political turbulence are familiar in Haiti.

The possibility of paralyzing protests is a big concern to Adler Augustin, a 29-year-old who has a small business inflating car tires at the side of a busy road in Port-au-Prince.

“All my work is in the streets so I’m worried I won’t be able to do any business,” he said.

Interim President Jocelerme Privert, who became Haiti’s caretaker leader in February after a presidential runoff was scrapped for a third time, has been trying to show he can guarantee stability as the election impasse has widened divisions in the polarized country. He has said Haiti cannot restart balloting without first restoring confidence in the electoral machinery.

International monitors who observed Haiti’s Oct. 25 presidential first round said results putting government-backed candidate Jovenel Moise in the leading position for a two-candidate runoff appeared to be a genuine reflection of the voters’ will.

But the tally was rejected by virtually all the other candidates, most notably the No. 2 finisher, Jude Celestin. He called results showing Moise with nearly 33 percent of the votes a “massive fraud” and many civil society groups expressed concern about the legitimacy of the vote.

Moise’s Tet Kale party opposed installing a verification panel, asserting it was illegal.

DAVID McFADDEN

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