PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — President Michel Martelly on Thursday ordered the creation of a special commission to assess Haiti's electoral process ahead of Dec. 27 presidential and legislative runoffs that opposition factions have threatened to derail because of suspicions of widespread fraud.
Martelly, who has been ruling by decree since January, named five members to assess the electoral process over the next three days and then make recommendations to the Provisional Electoral Council and his government. He said they would have assistance from experts from the European Union and observers from the Organization of American States.
A broad array of rights groups, local election monitors and political factions has alleged that the Oct. 25 presidential and legislative elections were so badly marred by ballot tampering, multiple voting and other irregularities that their validity was in question.
The No. 2 presidential finisher, Jude Celestin, has called the officially announced results a "ridiculous farce" and suggested he would boycott a runoff with the government-backed candidate who finished first unless a proper review of the elections was done and changes were made to the electoral council and police.
Celestin, a former state construction chief, has not been campaigning in recent weeks, but hasn't withdrawn from the runoff with Martelly's pick, political newcomer Jovenel Moise.
The council that oversees the electoral process has rejected insisted it lacks authority to authorize any review of the results and said the Dec. 27 date was firm.
Martelly was prohibited by Haiti's constitution from seeking a second consecutive term.
At a Thursday evening news conference, Prime Minister Evans Paul acknowledged that it would be "difficult" for elections to be held next weekend. But he also noted that the constitution mandates that new legislators take office Jan. 11 and the president give up his office Feb. 7.
Celestin could not immediately be reached for his response to Martelly's decree. A member of his opposition alliance called "Group of Eight" said the group would issue a statement on their position soon.
It was not clear how the members of the new evaluation commission were chosen or what the precise scope of their review would be. Martelly said his "commission of evaluation" would be tasked with recommending measures to "ensure transparency and credibility of the electoral process."
The panel includes Patrick Aris of the Episcopal Conference of Haiti, which has been sharply critical of this year's elections, as well as Rosny Desroches, director of a Haitian observer group, and former Port-au-Prince Mayor Joseph Emmanuel Charlemagne.
The two presidential candidates expected to compete in the runoff could have a representative monitor the commission's work, according to the presidential decree.
The order came hours after the prime minister posted a statement on his Twitter account saying he recommended Martelly order such a review.
The formation of the commission came a day after parliamentary opposition candidate Gerald Jean and other office-seekers told Haitian radio stations that they were approached to shell out bribes to council members and judges in an electoral court to pave the way for a legislative seat.
It also came on the heels of an appeal by the 10 sitting members of Haiti's Senate for Martelly to use a constitutional article to prevent electoral authorities from issuing final results for legislative races until a review panel could be set up to verify the integrity of elections.
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