January 20, 2011 / 9:44 PM / 9 years ago

Haiti under pressure to amend initial vote results

* U.N. urges election body to accept OAS review of results

* OAS report recommends changing preliminary vote results

* Uncertainty follows Duvalier return, eyes on Aristide

By Joseph Guyler Delva and Allyn Gaestel

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Jan 20 (Reuters) - The United Nations and Western powers urged Haiti’s authorities on Thursday to amend the preliminary results of flawed November elections, warning that failure to do so could lead to more political turmoil.

President Rene Preval’s government and Haiti’s electoral authorities are under intense pressure to accept a report by Organization of American States experts that recommends dropping a government-backed presidential candidate from a second-round runoff vote, in favor of another candidate.

The recommendation followed a review by OAS electoral experts of the disputed preliminary results of the Nov. 28 vote in the poor, earthquake-battered Caribbean state, which was marred by confusion, fraud allegations and street protests.

“Should the CEP (Haiti’s Provisional Electoral Council) decide otherwise, Haiti may well be faced with a constitutional crisis, with the possibility of considerable unrest and insecurity,” U.N. peacekeeping chief Alain Le Roy told the Security Council in New York. The U.N. maintains a more than 12,000-strong peacekeeping operation in Haiti.

The uncertainty created by the elections impasse in Haiti, which is trying to recover from a devastating 2010 earthquake, has been increased by the surprise return home from exile on Sunday of former dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier.

Duvalier, 59, faces charges of corruption and human rights abuses committed during his 1971-1986 rule. Another exiled former president, firebrand ex-priest Jean-Bertrand Aristide, has said he also wants to come home. [ID:nN19248748]

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Factbox on Duvalier: [ID:nN16209645]

WITNESS-Duvalier takes power in ‘71 [ID:nLDE70G0TP]

Take a Look on Haiti: [ID:nHAITI]

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Le Roy said the CEP should “honor its commitment to fully take into account the report’s recommendations with a view to ensuring the results of the elections truly reflect the will of the Haitian people.”

The OAS experts’ report, which cited significant vote tally “irregularities” to recommend changing the preliminary presidential election results, says government technocrat and Preval protege Jude Celestin should be replaced in the second round by popular musician Michel Martelly.

Martelly would run against opposition matriarch Mirlande Manigat, winner of the most votes in the Nov. 28 first round, whom the OAS experts confirmed for the second round.

The initial CEP preliminary election results had put Celestin in the second round with Manigat, ahead of Martelly.

NEED FOR “CREDIBLE PROCESS”

The U.N.’s Le Roy said he understood the Haitian electoral council aimed to issue definitive first round election results on Jan. 31 and hold a second round run-off in mid-February.

Preval, facing an avalanche of problems in the final days of his rule that formally ends on Feb. 7, has expressed reservations about the methodology used in the OAS report.

But western governments and aid donors to Haiti, like the United States, Germany and Britain, all emphatically backed the U.N. call for the OAS recommendation to be implemented.

“Sustained support from the international community, including the United States, requires a credible process that represents the will of the Haitian people, as expressed by their votes,” said U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice.

Rice also expressed unease over the unexpected arrival of Duvalier, who fled Haiti in 1986 to escape a popular revolt.

Human rights groups accuse Duvalier of plundering state coffers and of continuing for 15 years the reign of terror of his father, Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier, who died in 1971.

“The United States is concerned about the unpredictable impact that Duvalier’s return may have on Haiti’s political situation,” Rice said.

Haiti’s government and its foreign partners are also wary of Aristide’s desire to return home. He became Haiti’s first freely elected president in 1990 but in a later tenure was ousted by a 2004 rebellion.

Aristide remains very popular in Haiti and there are fears his return could disrupt the elections process, from which his party, Fanmi Lavalas, was excluded by electoral authorities.

“What Haiti needs is calm, not divisive actions that distract from the task of forming a new government,” said U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley.

“Aristide should be able to come back just like Duvalier did. They are both citizens,” said Andre Zilien, 57, a gardener in Port-au-Prince. (Additional reporting by Patrick Worsnip in New York, Writing by Pascal Fletcher; Editing by Xavier Briand)

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