Haiti council unveils $55 million election budget

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PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) – Haitian electoral authorities on Wednesday released details of a $55 million budget to organize a redo of an annulled presidential election that will not be underwritten by the U.S. or monitored by EU observers.

With money cobbled together from Haiti’s transitional government, the troubled country’s Provisional Electoral Council hopes to organize two rounds of voting for president, some members of parliament and numerous municipal seats. A first-round presidential redo is scheduled for Oct. 9.

The impoverished Caribbean nation has relied on the U.S. and other international partners to fund much of its balloting costs. This time around, they are trying to go it alone after international partners disagreed with the decision to annul last year’s disputed presidential vote.

Uder Antoine, the council’s executive director, said they are requesting some $48 million from the caretaker government though he acknowledged they could get allotted less. They currently have some $6.5 million in an election fund. He said he didn’t foresee problems organizing a redo vote in October.

“We are doing the best we can to have a different kind of election than we’ve had in Haiti over the past 29 years,” Antoine told The Associated Press. He said a Haitian electoral council never publicly released an election budget before.

Last month, Washington announced it had suspended funding assistance for the redo balloting in Haiti. U.S. taxpayers already contributed $33 million for a three-round Haitian electoral cycle that was supposed to be resolved months ago.

U.S. officials have framed the decision as a simple budgeting matter by Washington, which is Haiti’s largest donor. Officials say the U.S. requested the return of nearly $2 million of unspent assistance left in an election trust fund.

Kenneth Merten, the State Department’s special coordinator for Haiti, said the U.S. was disappointed with the decision to redo the vote because drifting Haiti could have avoided its latest leadership muddle if it had stuck to earlier timetables. A caretaker president remains in office even though his term expired in June.

In an interview this week, Merten said he thought it was ultimately “a good thing for Haiti to take full ownership of its electoral process.”

“Although we may not be supporting the elections financially, we certainly support the fact that they’re having elections,” he said.

As far as U.S. officials can glean, Merten said, the revamped Provisional Electoral Council appeared to be “diligently working” to get the elections done on the latest timetable.

Merten said Washington regretted that the European Union has decided not to send an observer mission. The Organization of American States still plans to send monitors.

Analysis by international observers found that last year’s presidential vote had various organizational shortcomings but that those problems didn’t have an impact on the outcome. That contrasted sharply with local observers who alleged rampant fraud.

In late May, a special Haitian verification commission recommended throwing out the disputed results of the first-round presidential election and start over from scratch. Prior to that decision, three runoff dates had to be scrapped amid fraud allegations, street protests and a candidate who declined to campaign.

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