Haiti's leader calls for calm before election results released

Port-au-Prince (AFP) - Haiti's interim leader Jocelerme Privert on Monday called for calm before preliminary results from the first round of the Caribbean country's presidential election are released later in the day.

"Resorting to acts of violence can only spoil the fruits of the beautiful day we had on November 20," Privert said at the presidential palace in Port-au-Prince, referring to the vote held earlier this month.

The election was a key step in restoring constitutional order in Haiti, where former president Michel Martelly's mandate expired after the results of last year's first round poll were annulled amid widespread claims of fraud.

Nearly 6.2 million people were eligible to vote in the impoverished nation, parts of which are still struggling to recover from a devastating hurricane.

Of the 27 candidates who ran for president, four have already claimed victory in the first round in statements that have been criticized by the international community.

Leading candidates for president include Jovenel Moise, a wealthy Haitian backed by Martelly, and Jude Celestin, candidate of the opposition LAPEH.

"My compatriots, our country is living through a dramatic moment. It needs a social cooling off, it needs calm, serenity, peace and tranquility," Privert said.

"My brothers and sisters, I invite you all to use the means of recourse set forth in the electoral decree and constitutional provisions to defend your legitimate rights," he added.

Haitian law offers candidates the opportunity to challenge the results from the presidential and legislative election in electoral courts.

Final results will then be published December 29, according to the calendar set out by Haiti's Provisional Electoral Council.

Any candidate who wins more than half of the votes cast will be the victor. Otherwise, a runoff is set for January 29.

Haiti's election was originally held in October 2015 but the results were eventually scrapped amid opposition protests after an independent commission found massive fraud.

The invalidation of the results prevented Martelly, a popular singer elected in May 2011, from transferring power to a successor chosen by popular vote, as required by the constitution.

The legislature chose Senate chief Jocelerme Privert as interim head of state -- initially with a three-month mandate -- but new polls were delayed amid civil unrest and political infighting.

The first round of the presidential election was scheduled again for October 9 this year but was delayed after Hurricane Matthew pummeled the country a few days before.