PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — The United States has suspended financial assistance to Haiti's electoral authorities as they plan to redo a presidential vote that a special commission found was marred by widespread fraud.
At a Washington press briefing Thursday, U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby said the decision to stop funding a Haitian electoral cycle that began in 2015 did not "signal a reduction in U.S. support for the people or development of Haiti."
He framed the decision as a simple budgeting matter by the U.S., which is Haiti's largest donor. He said Washington did not plan to spend additional taxpayer money for two more voting rounds in the hemisphere's poorest country but would "maintain assistance in other key priority areas."
"We believe it's the sound thing to do, the right thing to do for the people of Haiti in the long-term," Kirby said.
Last year, U.S. taxpayers contributed $33 million for a three-round Haitian electoral cycle that was intended to elect a president, parliament members and numerous other offices. But the presidential runoff was repeatedly scrapped amid deep public suspicions of fraud and violent protests.
It wasn't immediately clear what the absence of U.S. funding would mean for Haiti's revamped Provisional Electoral Council, which organizes balloting in a country where elections are never easy.
But new council chief Leopold Berlanger did not sound concerned by the U.S. decision or a possible ripple effect with other foreign donors amid a lingering political impasse.
"I think if you are a real sovereign country you should get the means to fund your own elections," he told The Associated Press.
Under Berlanger, the council annulled the disputed presidential election and called a new vote, as recommended by a special commission that reported finding what appeared to be significant fraud and professional misconduct.
A total of 27 presidential candidates are now expected to run in the redo vote in October. A runoff would take place in January.
Last month, Kenneth Merten, the U.S. State Department's special coordinator for Haiti, said the U.S. was "disappointed" with the decision to redo the vote because impoverished Haiti could have avoided its leadership muddle if it had stuck to agreed-upon timetables earlier.
Caretaker President Jocelerme Privert's 120-day mandate heading an interim administration expired June 14 but the fragmented parliament is blocking a vote on extending his term or paving the way for a new interim leader.
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