Haitian Elections Cancelled As Popular Dissent Against Ruling Party Intensifies

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Haitian Elections Cancelled As Popular Dissent Against Ruling Party Intensifies

'If Haiti is to continue on its admittedly vexing path toward a real democracy... such utter contempt for the will of the Haitian people must end.'

Demonstrators march during a street protest after it was announced that the runoff Jan. 24, presidential election had been postponed, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Friday, Jan. 22, 2016. (Photo: Dieu Nalio Chery/AP)

Amid energetic protests fueled by shared criticisms from people in the streets and opposition political parties that the nation's political process is awash with fraud, the ruling government of Haiti on Friday cancelled national elections scheduled for Sunday by saying it could not guarantee the safety of voters.

"Will Haiti’s long-suffering population ever see the day when voters’ preference actually decides who will lead them? Will the international community’s often patronizing, 'We know what’s best for you' attitude, ever give way to support for the same democratic values in Haiti that it cherishes at home?"

"[It is] no longer opportune for having elections considering the threats against the electoral infrastructure and on the population who would have to go vote," Pierre-Louis Opont, the president of the country’s beleaguered Provisional Electoral Council (CEP), said at a government news conference in the city of Petionville.

According to the Miami Herald:

Opont's decision now raises many questions about what is to come, and possibly puts Haiti on the road to a very complicated process on deciding who will take charge of the country after Feb. 7, the constitutionally-mandated date for President Michel Martelly to leave office. Among the questions, when will the runoffs take place and will they take place with the same presidential runoff candidates, Moïse and opposition candidate Jude Celestin?

The target of fraud allegations, the disputed elections have triggered a months long crisis with the top Roman Catholic and business leaders saying the conditions did not exist for a vote. The Senate even passed a resolution asking the CEP to suspend the process.

As Opont announced the cancellations, thousands of protesters made their way in a silent march up from the city of Delmas to the CEP’s headquarters in Petionville.

After word spread, they cheered, and passing motorists honked their horns. Soon pandemonium broke out as police fired tear gas to disperse crowds approaching the CEP’s headquarters. Angry demonstrators threw rocks. Gunshots were fired. Cars were burned.

Jude Celestin, the presidential candidate of the main opposition LAPEH party who was defeated in an earlier round of voting he claims was overtly fraudulent, had already announced he would not participate in the Sunday election, citing years of corruption and anti-democratic behavior by the Martelly government. In an op-ed published Friday morning, Celestin, explained why his reasons for that were "simple" ones:

Both in the violence- and fraud-marred August parliamentary elections, and in October’s electoral farce, the CEP showed that it had no qualms about blatantly manipulating results in favor of Martelly’s candidates. Any candidate, myself included, who would go into this presidential runoff without the required changes would be a fool.

If Haiti is to continue on its admittedly vexing path toward a real democracy, institutional stability and economic development, such utter contempt for the will of the Haitian people must end.

If it does not end now, one must ask: Will Haiti’s long-suffering population ever see the day when voters’ preference actually decides who will lead them? Will the international community’s often patronizing, “We know what’s best for you” attitude, ever give way to support for the same democratic values in Haiti that it cherishes at home?

Jean-Charles Moise, another opposition candidate who said fraud led to his first-round defeat, welcomed the cancellation of the elections. "The fact that the electoral council was forced to give up the electoral farce is a victory for the Haitian people," he said.

Meanwhile the populist-left party in Haiti, Fanmi Lavalas, led by former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, also joined with those decrying the sitting government and the repressive conditions that pervade the country which have only been further exposed during the national election process.

Lavalas' candidate for president, Maryse Narcisse, joined with other opposition candidates to highlight the severity of the fraud and systematic mistreatment of the Haitian people.

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