PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) - Haiti’s government presidential candidate will withdraw from the elections race, a party colleague said on Tuesday, opening the way for a solution to a dangerous electoral dispute in the poor Caribbean nation.
The dispute over contested results from chaotic November 28 presidential and legislative elections had threatened to plunge Haiti back into political turmoil a year after a devastating earthquake, and had also put delivery of donors’ aid at risk.
“The candidate for our party INITE, Jude Celestin, will withdraw from the presidential race to facilitate a solution to the electoral crisis,” Senator Franky Exius, a member of the ruling INITE coalition, told Reuters.
The United Nations and western donors have put intense pressure on outgoing President Rene Preval and electoral authorities to accept an Organization of American States (OAS) experts’ report challenging preliminary results from the November 28 elections that had put Celestin in the run-off.
These initial results given last month triggered violent street protests in Haiti, particularly from supporters of popular musician Michel Martelly, who had been placed third in the preliminary vote tally and so out of the run-off.
The OAS report, which cited significant “irregularities” in tallying by Haiti’s Provisional Electoral Council of votes from the U.N-backed November elections, recommended putting Martelly in the run-off, and dropping Celestin.
This way, Martelly would square off in a decisive second-round vote against opposition matriarch Mirlande Manigat, whom the OAS experts confirmed as winner of most votes in the November 28 first round, although she did not gain enough to win outright.
The electoral council is considering the OAS report and is due to give definitive election results at the end of January.
“Given the circumstances, we think this is the best decision to take,” Exius said of the planned withdrawal by Celestin, adding that the move followed meetings within INITE and also with Preval.
The United States, a big contributor of aid funds for Haiti’s post-quake reconstruction, had warned this support could be at risk if the OAS recommendation was not heeded.
Applying further pressure, Washington had also revoked the U.S. entry visas of several Haitians linked to INITE and Celestin’s campaign.
Reporting by Allyn Gaestel and Joseph Guyler Delva; Writing by Pascal Fletcher; Editing by David Storey