An OAS report offers a way past Haiti's political paralysis

Tuesday, January 11, 2011; 8:50 PM

GIVEN HAITI'S ARRAY of problems - first and foremost, rebuilding from the earthquake that broke the country's back a year ago - the last thing it needs is prolonged political paralysis. But that's exactly what it's suffered since Nov. 28, when chaotic national elections resulted in credible reports of government-backed fraud and a disputed result in the vote for president. If Haiti doesn't get beyond this, and quickly, the impasse threatens to cripple a reconstruction process whose slow pace has already disappointed millions.

A report by the Organization of American States offers a glimmer of hope. The report, obtained this week by the Associated Press, concludes that the government-backed candidate finished third in the November results - not second, as showed in the discredited official results. If President Rene Preval and the electoral commission accept the findings, they would eliminate Mr. Preval's anointed successor from runoff elections in favor of a popular singer who mounted a credible campaign.

The OAS was invited by the government to sort out the electoral mess, and its report is based on an extensive sampling of ballots and statistical analysis by a team of specialists from the United States, France, Canada, Jamaica, Spain and Chile. Mr. Preval, who so far has said he knows nothing of the report, should embrace it clearly, audibly and publicly for the sake of stability and Haiti's long-term chances of recovery. To do otherwise would be to invite mayhem.

The November elections were marred by low turnout, disorganization and a baroque assortment of irregularities and apparent fraud. Some have called for annulling them, assuming the international community would pay for a redo. The problem is that starting from scratch would leave the country in limbo for many more months, with no guarantee of a better outcome the second time around. That would be a self-defeating option given that many international donors are waiting for a new government to take the place of Mr. Preval's lackluster administration before they release reconstruction aid.

The OAS report is expected to be publicly released this week. Diplomats and international aid officials who have seen it describe it as a careful work, based on a review of nearly a fifth of the more than 1 million ballots cast. They believe the OAS probably correctly identified the two top vote-getters in the presidential election - Mirlande Manigat, a law professor who finished first, and Michel Martelly, the pop singer. A runoff between those two, possibly next month, would exclude Mr. Preval's candidate, Jude Celestin.

Haiti stands at a dangerous juncture. It needs a credible, competent and popularly elected government, not more months of infighting and indecision.

Accepting the findings of the OAS report will not please everyone, but it offers the least bad way to overcome the flaws of the November elections and prepare the ground for Haitians to unlock international aid, build stronger agencies of government and forge a better future.

© 2011 The Washington Post Company