WASHINGTON, United States, Friday October 29, 2010 – Close to 200 stakeholders gathered at the Organization of American States (OAS) in Washington, DC, this week, as Assistant Secretary General of the hemispheric body Ambassador Albert Ramdin convened an extraordinary meeting of the Haiti Group of Friends to discuss the situation in the country, one month ahead of Presidential Elections scheduled to take place in the next month.
Among the concerns raised at the meeting was the possible impact of the cholera outbreak on the elections, the presence of tens of thousands of Haitians still living in tent cities, and reports of violence ahead of the polls.
“We have to be realistic and pragmatic about the situation on the ground,” said Ramdin. “Under the present circumstances Haitian authorities, supported by the international community, are working hard to ensure that Haitians are able to exercise their right to vote, their right to elect a new President.”
Responding to questions about the expectations for voter turn-out, the Assistant Secretary General said: “Haitians in past elections have demonstrated strong commitment to democracy and high turn-out for the Presidential elections. Of course we hope that we will see that again.”
Nineteen candidates are contesting the Presidential Elections in November, with some 4.7 million adult Haitians registered to vote.
The Chief of the Joint OAS-CARICOM Electoral Observation Mission in Haiti, Ambassador Colin Granderson, said that in spite of the challenges, there is a “definite dynamic” heading into the elections.
“The Haitian electorate is benefitting, more parties are engaging, and the boycotting front is crumbling,” Granderson explained, adding that Haiti’s Provisional Electoral Council CEP is taking steps to ensure there is transparency.
Granderson pointed out, though, that one of the challenges following the earthquake was the number of deaths that have not been recorded.
“Names cannot be removed from the electoral list without a death certificate. Hundreds of bodies were never identified,” he said.
Yet Granderson is confident that adequate safeguards have been put in place for the vote. He says ID cards, the use of indelible ink and other systems have been developed to deal with proper voter identification.
The head of the Joint Observation Mission summed up the main concerns one month ahead of the polls: the distribution of ID cards, the negative perception of the CEP and security. Granderson referred to isolated incidents of violence, but maintained that the Haitian National Police and the UN peacekeeping force MINUSTAH were working together in the “traditional hotspots.”
About the cholera outbreak which has claimed more than 300 lives so far, Deputy Director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Jon Andrus said that up to 40 percent of infections are asymptomatic, and inadvertent transmission was a risk.
PAHO’s technical recommendation, he said, is “not to restrict travel, but rather practice good hygiene.” As to the impact cholera could have on the elections, the PAHO director said: “Experience in other countries has shown that major events, like elections, can happen without increasing transmission, but the decision is ultimately in the hands of the Haitian authorities.”
On reconstruction efforts, internationally renowned structural engineer Kit Miyamoto expressed confidence in the ability of Haitian nationals to push the rebuilding efforts forward. Miyamoto admitted that there was significant work to be done, but insisted that change could be achieved in one year, with adequate political support from a new president.
The Executive Director of Initiative de la Société Civile, Rosny Desroches, reiterated several prevailing concerns about the situation in Haiti, but also expressed his desire to see meaningful change and development.
“The Haitian people hope and pray that these elections bring a lasting solution,” he said.
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