Haiti second round vote impossible before February

Tue Jan 4, 2011 3:04pm EST
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By Joseph Guyler Delva

PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) - Haiti will not be able to hold a second round of its disputed presidential election before February as it awaits a report from regional experts on contested preliminary results from the November 28 first round, a senior electoral official said on Tuesday.

The outcome of Haiti's chaotic November elections has remained in limbo since violent protests greeted the December 7 preliminary results of the first round vote in the Caribbean nation. The presidential and legislative polls were held amid confusion, fraud allegations and a raging cholera epidemic.

The Western Hemisphere's poorest state is preparing to mark the first anniversary of the devastating earthquake that struck a year ago on January 12. There are fears the political instability will delay the handover of billions of dollars of urgently needed reconstruction funds from foreign donors.

"Today we are at a dangerous crossroads," outgoing President Rene Preval said in a Haitian Independence Day broadcast over the weekend.

He rejects accusations by opposition presidential candidates that he and his ruling Inite (Unity) coalition rigged the vote to put their contender in the second round.

Responding to international concern over reported irregularities in the November 28 vote results, Preval requested help from the Organization of American States and a team of OAS experts is working on verifying the preliminary tally.

But this has delayed the original electoral timetable which had foreseen final first round results being announced on December 20 and a second round run-off being held on January 16.

"It will be materially impossible to hold the run-off on January 16," Pierre-Louis Opont, director general of Haiti's Provisional Electoral Council, told Reuters.   Continued...