Hillary Clinton presses Haiti's René Préval to break election stalemate

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met on Sunday with President René Préval and Haiti's three leading presidential candidates. An electoral stalemate has delayed a final vote.

By , Correspondent

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    Secretary of State Hillary Clinton meets with Haitian president René Préval at the national palace in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on Jan. 30.
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After two months of electoral stalemate from Haiti's disputed national election, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited the Caribbean nation on Sunday with a clear message for their president: Move out of the way.

"It is important that the election go forward so there can be a new president," she said in a series of interviews Sunday. "There is so much work to be done in Haiti, and the international community stands ready to help."

Mrs. Clinton met with outgoing President René Préval – whose existing term expires Feb. 7– and the three leading presidential candidates from an initial round of voting on Nov. 28. The two leading vote-getters are to compete in a second round of presidential voting, now set for March 20 after a delay. The electoral council has said it would finalize the ballot Wednesday.

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Clinton did not mince words about who she prefers to see in the runoff, saying she would push for Mr. Préval to accept the recommendation of the Organization of American States (OAS). While initial election results showed former first lady of Haiti Mirlande Manigat winning the vote and Préval-backed candidate Jude Célestin placing second, OAS election monitors analyzed a sample of ballots and found popular singer Michel “Sweet Micky” Martelly had placed second.

“We have made it very clear we support the OAS recommendations, and we would like to see those acted on,” she told reporters, according to a transcript, adding that "at this time" there was no talk of suspending aid to Haiti.

Préval had initially balked at the OAS recommendation. His INITE (Unity) party, citing intimidation from the OAS, released a statement last week urging Mr. Célestin to step aside. Célestin has not announced his decision.

There may yet be a middle way conducive to all parties. Robert Fatton Jr., a Haiti expert and professor at the University of Virginia, says one option being discussed is that the electoral council will announce a statistical tie between Célestin and Mr. Martelly, meaning three candidates will compete in the final round.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s what they did. It’s probably the easiest thing for them. That way, they would not be rejecting the OAS report, just modifying it,” he says. “The question would be whether the Americans would [support] that.”

US seeks new partner

Yet the OAS report has been criticized. An independent analysis of first-round ballots by the Washington-based Center for Economic and Policy Research found Célestin did place second. The center recommended elections be held anew.

Yves Colon, a Haitian-born professor at the University of Miami, says the US wants to see the election impasse resolved because “everything is hinging on the elections, meaning the reconstruction, the release of aid, everything. Nothing can be done until the election is resolved,” he says.

More than a year after the 7.0-magnitude earthquake struck, the country still covered in rubble and tent cities.

With the pace of reconstruction expected to pick up this year, Mr. Colon says there is reluctance to partner with a government in which Préval would still be influential.

“Préval has not proven to be a very good partner. He’s been maneuvering behind the scenes … it’s Haitian politics as usual,” he says. “And Célestin is widely seen as Préval’s water boy.”

Clinton said she was going to discuss whether Préval would stay in office beyond Feb. 7, when the new president was originally to be inaugurated, or if an interim government would take over.

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