Associated Press

PORT-AU-PRINCE — A second-round vote to choose Haiti’s president will not be possible until late February, after the constitutional end of current President Rene Preval’s term, an electoral council spokesman said.

The two-candidate runoff is supposed to be held Jan. 16. But results have not been finalized from the Nov. 28 first round that was criticized for low turnout, disorganization, fraud, violence and voter intimidation.

A delay will only deepen a political crisis that has already resulted in rioting and further complicate Haiti’s response to a deadly cholera epidemic and the stalled reconstruction from last year’s earthquake.

The provisional electoral council is waiting for recommendations from an Organization of American States team called in to review the first-round vote.

It would then need weeks more to deal with candidates’ objections and allow time for campaigning, the spokesman for the provisional electoral council, Pierre Thibault Junior, said.

“The second round is not possible until the end of February,” he said.

Haiti’s constitution says Preval’s five-year term should end — and a new president’s term begin — on Feb. 7.  But Preval has lately been reminding Haitian media that delays surrounding his own complicated election meant that he was not actually inaugurated until May 14, 2006.

Preval has also opposed the creation of a transitional government to rule between the end of his term and the election of a new president.

After Preval suggested during the summer that he could stay in power an extra three months, protesters clashed with police and U.N. peacekeepers in front of the national palace that was destroyed by the earthquake.

That unrest was tame compared to the flaming barricades and raging anger in nearly all of Haiti’s major cities that met the announcement of results from the November presidential ballot.

Supporters of popular singer Michel “Sweet Micky” Martelly blocked streets and shut down the capital with rock-throwing and marches when they learned he had been eliminated in favor of ruling-party candidate Jude Celestin by less than one percent.

Celestin, who is backed by Preval’s Unity party, argued he should have been in first place. Former first lady Mirlande Manigat, who was shown to have led the vote, said she should have won the election outright.

A spokeswoman for the U.N. peacekeeping mission declined to comment, saying the ballot is a matter for the electoral council.

Photo: Haitian President Rene Preval