Haiti scraps election; interim president says could stay for months

Haiti's provisional president Jocelerme Privert speaks during an interview with Reuters in the National Palace in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, March 1, 2016. REUTERS/Andres Martinez Casares

By Joseph Guyler Delva PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) - Haiti's interim president, Jocelerme Privert, said he will stay in office until next year to transfer power to an elected president unless parliament rules otherwise, after the electoral council on Monday scrapped the results of a disputed presidential vote. The poor Caribbean nation held a first-round vote in October, but a second-round run-off was postponed several times after losing candidates alleged fraud. Privert was chosen as an interim leader when the last president left office without a successor. The electoral council accepted a recommendation to scrap the first-round results after a commission found evidence of fraud and set new dates for a fresh first round to be held on Oct. 9, with a run-off vote on Jan. 8. Under a multi-party agreement, Privert was supposed to have overseen elections and handed power to an elected successor within 120 days, by June 14. Electoral deadlines were missed after a spat over appointments and the establishment of the commission to investigate the first round. In its non-binding final report delivered last week, the commission recommended an entirely new election, citing widespread fraud and "zombie" voting. Speaking to Reuters, Privert said he would stay in office unless parliament agreed to remove him. Privert has strong support in the upper house, and legislators have failed to meet at all lately, making it unlikely they will vote to remove him. "The agreement stands even beyond the 120 days. We have dates and deadlines that changed for reasons beyond our control, but the fundamental mission is to organize the election as soon as possible," Privert said at the presidential palace. "I am ready to comply with any decision made by parliament in that regard. But if they are not able to make any decision, I cannot abandon my responsibilities," he said. Earlier this week the United States warned that starting the elections from scratch could prolong the period Haiti remained without a democratically elected president. The election has divided opinion in Haiti. Supporters of Privert and his allies feel that international pressure to hold a vote quickly led to the flawed first round. Others feel the vote should go ahead quickly, in a country suffering from food shortages and barely recovering from the devastating 2010 earthquake. The party that came first in the contested first round warned of protests against the electoral council's decision to start elections over, and blamed Privert for the delay. "He is manipulating the electoral council to organize fraudulent elections for his political family," said Guichard Dore of the Haitian Tet Kale Party (PHTK) "We will continue to mobilize against current efforts to organize an electoral coup," he said. (Editing by Frank Jack Daniel and Leslie Adler)