Despite a presidential election redo, political protests persist in Haiti

Haiti's Provisional Electoral Council said Jovenel Moise won 55.6 percent of the votes in the Nov. 20 election, apparently avoiding a runoff.

Dieu Nalio Chery/AP
Supporters of presidential candidate Maryse Narcisse, from Fanmi Lavalas political party, protest election results in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016. Jovenel Moise, a political newcomer backed by Haiti's previous elected leader, easily won the presidential election redo, according to preliminary results that were quickly questioned Tuesday by several losing factions.

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — A political newcomer backed by Haiti's previous elected leader easily won a presidential election redo against 26 rivals, according to preliminary results that were quickly questioned Tuesday by several losing factions.

Haiti's Provisional Electoral Council said Jovenel Moise won 55.6 percent of the votes in the Nov. 20 election, apparently avoiding a runoff. Turnout was just 21 percent.

President-elect Moise had been the leading vote-getter in the first-round of presidential balloting last year, but the official results were annulled after a Haitian commission called for the election to start over from scratch amid widespread fraud allegations.

This time, Moise, an agricultural entrepreneur and candidate of former President Michel Martelly's Tet Kale party, led his nearest competitor by over 35 percentage points.

Moise was surrounded by jubilant, cheering supporters at a Petionville hotel after results were announced late Monday. With his wife, Martine, at his side, he thanked Haiti's citizens and all his political competitors in the deeply polarized country.

"It's together we will change Haiti," said Moise, who was tapped by Martelly in 2015 to be his successor.

Supporters of at least two other presidential candidates took to the streets in pockets of Haiti's capital to protest the results, burning tires and throwing rocks at riot police who dispersed them with tear gas. But there were no reports of serious violence.

Second-place presidential candidate Jude Celestin of the Lapeh political party had 19.5 percent in the preliminary count, trailing Moise by over 385,000 votes. He led an opposition alliance and boycotted campaigning for a runoff after coming in second to Moise in last year's scrapped results.

Mr. Celestin and the third and fourth finishers quickly rejected the preliminary tally and said they would file challenges.

"We're going to fight this. We're asking the population to stay mobilized while we conduct the fight through the law," Celestin said on a local radio station.

Political parties can challenge the results before Haiti's electoral tribunal before winners are certified Dec. 29.

The election redo was needed to restore constitutional order in Haiti, which has been led by a provisional government for nearly a year because Martelly's mandate expired before elections could be completed.

The recent balloting will also complete Parliament as voters picked a third of the Senate and the 25 remaining members of the Chamber of Deputies. The results of those races were not immediately clear.

Former Sen. Moise Jean Charles had 11 percent of the Nov. 20 vote, and the leader of the Lavalas Family party, Marysse Narcisse, had 8.9 percent.

Though his political enemies tried to discredit him as a puppet of Martelly, Moise campaigned vigorously and his support appeared to span the political spectrum among the sliver of Haitians who cast votes.

Even before the results were announced, flaming street barricades were set up in a section of Port-au-Prince and some car windows were smashed by supporters of the Lavalas Family party, which was founded by twice-elected, twice-ousted ex-President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

For days, Lavalas partisans have insisted that only "massive fraud" would keep Narcisse from the presidency and they have repeatedly demonstrated in the streets of Port-au-Prince despite a decree saying there could be no demonstrations until after the results were issued.

Tuesday was no different as Lavalas partisans again marched through a patchwork of downtown slums where there is a well-worn street protest circuit. Celestin backers also burned tire barricades in the Port-au-Prince neighborhood of Delmas 60.

Pouchon Jean-Louis, a laborer in the Solino slum, watched a Lavalas rally snake past his family's concrete shack and sucked his teeth in frustration.

"These last elections seemed to go well and now these people are screaming fraud again. I want a new Haiti. If Jovenel wins then that is the will of the people," Jean-Louis said by a burned car.

After the preliminary results were reported, gunshots rang out in a number of districts either in celebration or warning. But the capital was relatively calm overall Tuesday, though there was a heavy police presence in spots and traffic was light.

Seven senators from the Lavalas party and sympathetic factions sent a letter to the electoral commission alleging excessive irregularities during the Nov. 20 vote, including voters unable to cast ballots due to the relocation of some polling centers.

Robert Maguire, a Haiti expert who is an international affairs professor at George Washington University, urged Haitian electoral authorities to respond "quickly, clearly and fairly" to those contesting the result, said he hoped losing candidates would accept transparent and honest results.

"Spoilers — with or without guns — still lurk in the shadows," Maguire said.

Prior to running as the candidate for Tet Kale, Moise was a little-known businessman who set up a banana plantation in Haiti's north and founded a public-private project called Agritrans to export the fruit to Europe. His campaign nickname is "banana man."

Moise served as secretary general of the chamber of commerce in northern Haiti and his first business was an auto parts company in the Port-de-Paix commune. He also distributed drinking water in northern towns and his campaign literature said he started a project to bring solar and wind power to 10 communities.  As president, he vows to improve education and create jobs.

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