By EVENS SANON
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — A majority of Haitian senators on Wednesday approved a resolution calling for the suspension of presidential and legislative runoffs set for this weekend.
However, political observers and lawmakers said the resolution calling for the Jan. 24 vote to be halted, among other measures, is non-binding and can’t actually stop the final round of Haiti’s elections.
"This can’t force the CEP’s hand," said constitutional historian Georges Michel, referring to the acronym for the Haitian council that oversees the electoral process. "They can just ignore this vote and the senators know that."
Reached hours before the lawmakers voted, electoral council spokesman Roudy Stanley Penn said he could not provide a response when asked what the body would do if Haiti’s Senate endorsed the measure. He could not be reached Wednesday evening.
The Sunday presidential runoff pits government-backed candidate Jovenel Moise against opposition contender Jude Celestin, who argues Haiti’s electoral machinery is rigging the vote. He leads an opposition alliance alleging "massive fraud" in favor of Moise.
Moise, an agricultural entrepreneur who was plucked from political obscurity by outgoing President Michel Martelly, was the leading vote-getter in the disputed Oct. 25 first round that was endorsed by international monitors. Celestin came in second place.
Electoral authorities say Celestin’s name and photo will still appear on ballots because he never officially withdrew from the race.
Martelly, who is barred from seeking a consecutive term, is due to leave office Feb. 7. He has argued that the opposition has spread unsubstantiated allegations about "massive fraud" to improve their chances at gaining power.
Opposition Sen. Steven Benoit, one of numerous presidential candidates who did not make the two-candidate runoff, said he was hopeful that the Senate resolution could motivate authorities to halt the elections and prevent what he believes is interference from the U.S. in Haitian politics.
Fifteen senators voted to authorize the resolution, while five others abstained. Three senators were not in the chambers and the upper house’s president does not cast votes. Sunday’s legislative runoffs are intended to fill the remaining six seats.
Haiti’s influential Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday called for sweeping recommendations from a special electoral commission to be adopted and for new Provisional Electoral Council members to advance plans for the final round of balloting.
AP Writer David McFadden contributed to this story from Port-au-Prince.
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