OAS joins efforts to rescue Haiti election process as clock ticks

Reuters News
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Posted: Jan 31, 2016 10:40 PM

By Joseph Guyler Delva

PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) - A special mission sent by the Organization of American States met Haiti's President Michel Martelly on Sunday as part of intensifying efforts to resolve an electoral crisis that threatens stability in the Caribbean nation.

Martelly is due to leave office on Feb. 7 but has no successor because violent protests over alleged fraud in a flawed first round led electoral authorities to call off a runoff vote scheduled to be held a week ago.

The government and the opposition remain at loggerheads, with each side holding protests almost daily and no agreement on who will rule the country if Martelly leaves office without an elected replacement.

"The OAS mission discussed with president Martelly and they will meet representatives of different sectors to help us find a solution likely to facilitate the completion of the electoral process", Fritz Jean-Louis, a minister dealing with election issues, told Reuters on Sunday.

Criticism of the Oct. 25 first round focused on hundreds of thousands of party agents permitted to vote in any polling station, which the OAS has said was "seen as one of the main sources of irregularities."

The runoff, with tighter controls on voting by party representatives, was supposed to be disputed between ruling party favorite Jovenel Moise and opposition challenger Jude Celestin.

Haiti, the poorest country in the Americas, has struggled for decades to build a stable democracy, with critics saying that foreign assistance has often fallen short of expectations, including after the devastating 2010 earthquake.

Jean-Louis said Martelly requested OAS help to avoid the political crisis worsening after Feb. 7.

Anti-government protesters have voiced opposition to the OAS initiative, which they believe may help Martelly remain in power beyond the constitutional date for his departure.

At least four proposals for what to do after Feb. 7 are on the table, including options for an interim government that would be tasked with organising elections. The proposal most strongly resisted by the opposition is for Martelly to stay on until elections are held.

The opposition, which includes members of several parties who dispute the results of a first round election, threatens to intensify protests.

The crisis deepened this week when members of the nine-member electoral council resigned. Only three remain in office. Organizing a vote will be difficult if they are not replaced quickly.

Proposals under discussion include nominating a Supreme Court judge or the current prime minister as provisional president. Another idea is that the National Assembly appoint an interim president.

Martelly said this week he would not leave if there was no agreement about what happened after Feb. 7.

(Editing by Frank Jack Daniel)