PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – Haiti's ruling party held closed-door meetings Tuesday to decide whether to fight for their presidential candidate to remain in the race despite U.S. and international pressure to drop him.
The quake-torn country's political future hinges on how the Inite, or Unity, party handles an Organization of American States recommendation that would push outgoing President Rene Preval's chosen successor, government construction official Jude Celestin, out of the race.
Doing so would open the door for carnival singer Michel "Sweet Micky" Martelly, a pro-military populist, to face former first lady Mirlande Manigat in a runoff.
The OAS says Martelly, whose partisans rioted when it looked like he would not advance, should have finished second in the fraud-marred vote and go to the runoff. Its recommendation, based on a sample of the vote, was made over the objections of other candidates and observers who said the entire vote should be thrown out.
"There's no final decision yet," the coordinator of Preval's Unity party, former Sen. Joseph Lambert, told The Associated Press in the evening.
Earlier in the day, Lambert told Radio Metropole that "a significant number of candidates for deputies and senate would favor" dropping Celestin to avoid international sanctions.
The newspaper Le Nouvelliste reported that Celestin would concede, citing an anonymous government official — but that report has not been confirmed, and a predicted party statement has not been made.
The debate centers on the OAS election observers' recommendation that fraudulent tally sheets from the Nov. 28 ballot be excluded. Based on a review of about 17 percent of the vote, the team said that Celestin and Martelly, separated by a few hundred ballots in the preliminary results, should switch places.
Now the United States — currently holding nearly $1 billion in reconstruction aid originally promised for last year — is insisting that the OAS report be implemented.
"Sustained support from the international community, including the United States, requires a credible (electoral) process" including "conducting second-round elections in a manner consistent with the recommendations and findings of the OAS technical review," the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, told the U.N. Security Council last week.
The next day, the U.S. State Department said it had revoked the visas of about a dozen Haitian officials. Reports said they were officials close to Preval and his party, though the State Department declined to confirm their identities citing privacy rules for individual visas.
The OAS Permanent Council announced Tuesday it will meet in special session Wednesday morning "for an update on the situation in Haiti."
It is not known what position on the OAS recommendation will ultimately be taken by Preval, who reportedly was incensed when its contents leaked before he was able to review them.
The president has often worked closely with the United States and the international community, garnering praise and commitments from Washington and criticism from those in Haiti who see him as overly conciliatory to the nearby superpower.
But Preval is also adamantly independent.
In an unverified 2009 diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks, a former U.S. ambassador to Haiti described Preval as "essentially a nationalist politician," saying he "often takes actions ... which could be construed as working at cross purposes with the U.S."
The Washington-based Center for Economic and Policy Research, which has criticized the OAS recommendations and called for the entire election to be thrown out, said Tuesday that the pressure on the government was anti-democratic.
"The United States and its allies are trying to reverse the results of an election and decide who can be president of Haiti," co-director Mark Weisbrot said in a press release.