A commission that evaluated Haiti's contested presidential election said Monday that most of the irregularities it found in first-round voting were the result of widespread ineptitude by poll workers and not political mischief.
Commission member Rosny Desroches said only 8 percent of the tally sheets and other documents they examined from the Oct. 25 vote were free of any irregularities. But the commission said that was not a sign of rampant vote-rigging as the opposition asserts.
"Many of the irregularities that we have seen are due to lack of preparation, negligence, lack of competence, lack of professionalism," Desroches said.
A broad array of rights groups, local election monitors and political factions had alleged that the Oct. 25 presidential and legislative elections in Haiti were so badly marred by ballot tampering, multiple voting and other irregularities that their validity was in question.
According to Haiti's Provisional Electoral Council, government-backed candidate Jovenel Moise received nearly 33 percent of the votes cast Oct. 25 in a field of 54 contenders seeking the presidency. Official results say the agricultural entrepreneur, a political newcomer hand-picked by outgoing President Michel Martelly, who has been ruling by decree since January, had 117,602 more votes than second-place finisher Jude Celestin, a former state construction chief who was eliminated from a runoff during the last election cycle after a review pushed by the international community.
Celestin rejected the results as a "ridiculous farce" amid the many fraud accusations that helped lead to the postponement of presidential and legislative runoffs initially scheduled for Dec. 27.
After days of evaluation, Desroches said on Monday that commission members didn't find evidence of widespread fraud favoring Moise or any candidate.
"Unless we have people who are really qualified (at the polls) we cannot say that there was massive fraud. The question of qualification is crucial," he told The Associated Press.
It remains unclear if there will be a political compromise to ease Haiti's electoral tensions and ensure the runoff is held in soon. Martelly was prohibited from running for a consecutive term and is constitutionally due to leave office Feb. 7.
Celestin didn't comment on the panel's findings.
Celestin and an opposition alliance of seven other candidates had sought an independent recount of the October vote. But Desroches said a full recount of the roughly 1.5 million ballots was impossible because of the panel's time constraints and it would likely postpone the runoff for months. One of the five commissioners did not sign the final report because he had pushed for a recount.
Last week, Martelly announced that Haiti's Provisional Electoral Council has warned that the runoff must be held by Jan. 17 to fulfill the constitutional mandate of inaugurating a new president Feb. 7.
Desroches said he believes the runoff can take place Jan. 17 if the will exists to swiftly make improvements to the electoral system. He said the panel's various recommendations could be implemented within 72 hours.
The commission is recommending political dialogue, training for poll workers, and probes of electoral council staffers accused of taking bribes to ensure legislative candidates reached the runoff.
If these changes are made and Celestin still does not participate in the runoff, Haiti will be in a "very complicated situation," Desroches said.
Al Jazeera with The Associated Press