In Haiti, No. 2 presidential candidate undecided on runoff

AP News
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Posted: Nov 27, 2015 4:22 PM
In Haiti, No. 2 presidential candidate undecided on runoff

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — Campaign season for the final round of Haiti's elections has gotten started, but the second-place finisher in the presidential vote said Friday he hasn't decided whether he will participate in a runoff or continue to press for a recount.

Former state construction chief Jude Celestin told The Associated Press on Friday that "no decision has been made" about whether he will take part in the scheduled Dec. 27 runoff against Jovenel Moise, who led the count in the first round. He said more time is needed for dialogue with the opposition factions that allege vote-rigging by election authorities and Moise's government-backed campaign.

"We need to continue talks with all the different sides," Celestin said as he left a meeting with sixth-place presidential candidate Jean Henry Ceant. "A decision will be made soon."

Celestin, Ceant and six other presidential candidates have formed an alliance dubbed the "Group of Eight." They assert that the October elections and ballot-count were far too problematic for the official count to be legitimate. Haiti's Provisional Electoral Council announced its final tally on Tuesday, giving Moise nearly 33 percent of the vote and Celestin 25 percent.

It's a reversal of Celestin's experience in the 2010 election, when he was the government-backed contender and nearly all other major presidential candidates alleged that he benefited from fraud to make it into a runoff.

Under international pressure, Haiti's electoral council, known as the CEP, reviewed the count and eliminated Celestin from the race.

This time around, the international community is hoping the onetime protege of former President Rene Preval stays in the internationally financed elections, according to Haitian analysts.

"The only way the runoff can work is if Celestin has the confidence of other opposition groups and if the international community guarantees that they will very closely monitor the CEP," said political analyst Fritz Dorvilier, a sociologist at the State University of Haiti.

Many Haitians hoped that last month's first-round vote would lead to an accepted government after years of political gridlock. But the official results have instead brought a renewed surge of paralyzing street protests in urban areas this week and deep concerns about how democratic the vote really was.

A recent poll by the independent research group Igarape Institute found deep public suspicion of the Oct. 25 election. A U.S. delegation of election monitors from the National Lawyers Guild and International Association of Democratic Lawyers Delegation said it "fell far short of minimum standards for fair elections" and called for an independent investigation.

Observers from the Organization of American States noted some irregularities, but said the preliminary results announced earlier this month appeared to be in line with what they saw on election day.

Celso Amorim, chief of the Organization of American States' 125-member mission, had said Haiti appears to be "moving in the right direction" after a history of disorganized votes marred by violence.

President Michel Martelly's party has repeatedly denied accusations that it manipulated the voting or the ballot count and has dismissed calls for a recount.

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David McFadden on Twitter: http://twitter.com/dmcfadd