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A SPECIAL SECTION: Haiti, Since the January 12, 2010 Fierce Earthquake

Posted Thursday, January 13, 2011  

Haiti president unhappily receives report suggesting his preferred candidate be cut from the vote
By Jonathan M. Katz

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti Haitian leader Rene Preval on Thursday officially received the report of an international team trying to solve an electoral deadlock, but he is unhappy with their recommendation that his preferred candidate be cut from the presidential runoff vote.

A source with knowledge of internal discussions said the president wanted revisions to the document submitted by the Organization of American States. The source spoke on condition of anonymity because the report had not been made public.

The matter is extremely sensitive. Haiti's political stability has been more fragile than ever since the Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake and subsequent cholera epidemic. The candidates are vying for the chance to oversee billions of dollars in reconstruction aid.

Rioting broke out across the country when preliminary results from the Nov. 28 first-round election were announced in December that indicated the runoff would be between former first lady Mirlande Manigat and Preval's candidate, state-run construction company chief Jude Celestin.

Supporters of the third-place candidate, popular singer Michel "Sweet Micky" Martelly, barricaded streets and burned Celestin's campaign headquarters to demand their man be named president. A planned Jan. 16 runoff was postponed and the OAS team called into review allegations of fraud in the vote.

Merely handing the report over to the president was not a foregone conclusion. Preval's office turned down the team's requests for appointments before Wednesday's one-year anniversary of the cataclysmic earthquake. On Thursday, the appointment was granted.

"The report was handed over this afternoon ... we are very pleased with that," OAS Assistant Secretary General Albert Ramdin said.

He declined to comment on the team's conclusions, saying: "At some point the report will be made public but the discussions are ongoing."

The report's contents are already widely known. A draft copy was obtained by The Associated Press on Monday. A separately obtained draft was later posted on the internet by Washington-based think-tank Center for Economic and Policy Research.

Officials have confirmed that the conclusions did not change before being presented to the president.

The team of electoral, technical and statistical experts from the United States, France, Canada, Jamaica and the OAS concluded that tens of thousands more votes than previously thought should be discarded because polling-place officials did not follow procedures or because of signs that tally sheets were altered.

Based on new calculations, they said the runoff should pit Manigat against Martelly instead.

The Center for Economic and Policy Research, a left-leaning think-tank in Washington, said the OAS report was flawed and the election should be thrown out anyway because problems were too widespread and the party of still-popular ousted former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide unfairly excluded.

"This report can't salvage an election that was illegitimate," it said.

Preval said earlier in the week that he would not comment on the early reports of the conclusions until he had seen the document itself. But even with news circulating about his candidate, he expressed confidence in the review.

"The elections took place, we had some problems and we asked the (OAS) to come and verify what happened," he told Euronews television. "That will reassure so that each (candidate) accepts the position assigned to him so that we can continue the electoral process."

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