Haiti delays certification of 19 legislative races

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — International observers began examining contested tallies from 19 legislative races Monday shortly after Haitian officials announced they would delay certification of results of last month’s runoff election.

Colin Granderson, head of the election observer mission for Organization of American States and the Caribbean Community bloc, said a team of monitors was sifting through the results.

“We’re doing an analysis of the decisions taken by the electoral tribunal,” Granderson told The Associated Press.

Scrutiny of the results comes after U.S. diplomats said last week they wanted a public explanation of how 17 Chamber of Deputies candidates and one Senate candidate were declared winners by Haiti’s election commission with far more votes than they had when preliminary returns were announced April 4.

The U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince said the legitimacy of the legislative races would be up in the air if Haitian officials didn’t explain the results.

The United Nations, which has a peacekeeping force in Haiti, also expressed concerns.

In a Monday statement, Gaillot Dorsinvil, president of Haiti’s election commission, said the panel would delay publishing the results for 19 legislative races in the March 20 runoff “for the sake of transparency and in the best interests of the nation.”

Dorsinvil didn’t disclose any details about the 19th contested race, which was in addition to the 18 questioned by U.N. and U.S. diplomats. Granderson identified the 19th contest as a second Senate contest.

The new results announced last week gave the political party of outgoing President Rene Preval 46 of the 99 seats in the Chamber of Deputies and an absolute majority in the Senate with 17 of 30 seats. That kind of presence in parliament would give Preval’s Unity party greater control over key government decisions, including who is approved as the next prime minister, Haiti’s No. 2 official.

On Monday, Unity protesters set up flaming barricades in a Port-au-Prince slum, calling for the election results to be respected. U.N. peacekeepers later extinguished the fires.

“We won’t lose our vote,” Unity deputy candidate Daniel Saint-Hilaire said.

Saint-Hilaire, whose bid for a seat was one of those in question, won 49 percent of the votes in the runoff, according to the results announced last week. Preliminary results had shown him in second with 45 percent of the vote, compared to 51 percent for his rival.

The legislative elections were held alongside Haiti’s presidential runoff, and pop singer Michel “Sweet Micky” Martelly was declared the official winner for the nation’s top post last week in a landslide win. Martelly, a first-time politician, is scheduled to be inaugurated May 14.

Martelly, who is not a member of Unity, called for an investigation into the election results during a visit to Washington last week. The U.S. and members of the international community financed the elections.

Since the final results were announced, sporadic protests have also popped up in the countryside. An arson attack killed one person and injured three last week in a town near the border with the Dominican Republic. An official with the Boston-based Partners in Health aid group said the attack was “certainly associated” with election results while cautioning that the group was not aware of an exact motive.

Haitian national police spokesman Frantz Lerebours has said he had no knowledge of the attack.

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