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No date yet for Haiti vote run-off: official

by Staff Writers
Port-Au-Prince (AFP) Jan 5, 2011
Haitian electoral officials Wednesday said no date had yet been fixed for a second round run-off in disputed presidential elections due to take place later this month.

Violent protests flared in the Caribbean nation -- still struggling to recover from last year's devastating earthquake -- when December's first round results revealed popular singer Michel Martelly had failed to win a place in the run-off.

Instead he had been beaten by just 7,000 votes by Jude Celestin, the handpicked protege of President Rene Preval, who was set to run against first lady Mirlande Manigat on January 16, sparking allegations of fraud.

But election commission officials said Wednesday no date would be fixed for the run-off until the Organization of American States (OAS) had reviewed the results of the first round. Preval has called in the OAS to assess the results.

"Any decision by the commission will depend on the evaluation report which the OAS experts draw up," the chairman of the election commission Gaillot Dorsainvil told AFP.

"We have to wait for the results of the OAS mission to set a new date," for the run-off, he added.

"We will draw up an election calendar based on the publication of the definitive results from the first round," added the commission's director general Pierre-Louis Opont.

The 10 OAS experts arrived in Haiti at the end of December and are due to deliver their recommendations on how to proceed shortly.

"Before we have this report, we cannot organize the second round of the elections," Opont added.

In a country struggling with major infra-structure problems, as well as battling a cholera epidemic, it now seems likely that the run-off will not take place on January 16.

According to the contested first round results, Manigat took first place with 31 percent, while Celestin won 22 percent of the votes.

Martelly was only narrowly beaten into third place with 21 percent of the votes.

Twelve of the 18 first round candidates have alleged there was widespread fraud to secure Preval's preferred successor Celestin a place in the run-off. They have called for an interim caretaker government to be organized to replace Preval when his mandate expires on February 7.

But Preval has hinted he could stay in power until May 14, based on legislation setting out contingency plans if no president or parliament has been elected by February 7.

"Only a legitimate president and parliament can replace a president who has arrived at the end of his mandate," Preval said on January 1, arguing against an interim government.

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