PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — A commission that evaluated Haiti's contested presidential election said Monday that most of the irregularities it found in first-round voting were the result of widespread ineptitude by poll workers and not political mischief.
Commission member Rosny Desroches said only 8 percent of the tally sheets and other documents they examined from the Oct. 25 vote were free of any irregularities. But the commission said that was not a sign of rampant vote-rigging as the opposition asserts.
"Many of the irregularities that we have seen are due to lack of preparation, negligence, lack of competence, lack of professionalism," Desroches told The Associated Press following a news conference about the commission's findings.
According to Haiti's Provisional Electoral Council, government-backed candidate Jovenel Moise received nearly 33 percent of the votes cast Oct. 25 in a field of 54 contenders seeking the presidency. Official results say the agricultural entrepreneur, a political newcomer hand-picked by outgoing President Michel Martelly, had 117,602 more votes than second-place finisher Jude Celestin, a former state construction chief who was eliminated from a runoff during the last election cycle after a review pushed by the international community.
Celestin has rejected the results as a "ridiculous farce" amid the many fraud accusations that helped lead to the postponement of presidential and legislative runoffs initially scheduled for Dec. 27.
After days of evaluation, Desroches said commission members didn't find evidence of widespread fraud favoring Moise or any candidate.
"Unless we have people who are really qualified (at the polls) we cannot say that there was massive fraud. The question of qualification is crucial," he said.
It remains unclear if there will be a political compromise to ease Haiti's electoral tensions and ensure the runoff is held this month. Martelly was prohibited from running for a consecutive term and is constitutionally due to leave office Feb. 7.
Celestin didn't comment on the panel's findings. His campaign manager did not answer calls seeking clarification on whether the second-place candidate would now participate in the runoff campaign. Celestin has not campaigned since preliminary results made him one of two top candidates.
Celestin and an opposition alliance of seven other candidates had sought an independent recount of the October vote. But Desroches said a full recount of the roughly 1.5 million ballots was impossible because of the panel's time constraints and it would likely postpone the runoff for months.
Last week, Martelly announced that Haiti's Provisional Electoral Council has warned that the runoff must be held by Jan. 17 to fulfill the constitutional mandate of inaugurating a new president Feb. 7
Desroches said he believes the runoff can take place Jan. 17 if the will exists to swiftly make improvements to the electoral system. He said the panel's various recommendations could be implemented within 72 hours.
The commission is recommending political dialogue, training for poll workers, and probes of electoral council staffers accused of taking bribes to ensure legislative candidates reached the runoff.
If these changes are made and Celestin still does not participate in the runoff, Haiti will be in a "very complicated situation," Desroches said.
The United Nations, the U.S. government and representatives of other nations that make up the Core Group that monitors the country said they recognized the efforts to enhance the "credibility and transparency of the electoral process and to ensure a level playing field."
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