Haiti's Flawed Election, by Brian Concannon

Haiti’s Flawed Elections: They Told Us So

By Brian Con­can­non, Jr.  The Boston Haitian, 10 November 2010

Voices from across the polit­i­cal spec­trum in both Haiti and the United States, joined by human rights groups, and most impor­tantly, Hait­ian voters—have warned both Hait­ian and U.S. gov­ern­ment that the deeply flawed elec­tions in Haiti cur­rently sched­uled for Novem­ber 28 risk putting the coun­try into tur­moil and endan­ger­ing our invest­ment in recon­struc­tion. But both the U.S. and Hait­ian Admin­is­tra­tions refuse to listen.

This month’s elec­tions may be the most impor­tant in Hait­ian his­tory. Vot­ers will choose the entire House of Deputies for four years, a Pres­i­dent for five years, and one-third of the Sen­ate for six years. These offi­cials will have the respon­si­bil­ity of guid­ing Haiti’s recon­struc­tion for at least four years, which will require mak­ing many hard, impor­tant deci­sions that will shape Hait­ian soci­ety for decades.

The leg­isla­tive elec­tions will hap­pen with­out 15 polit­i­cal par­ties, includ­ing Haiti’s most pop­u­lar party, Fanmi Lavalas. Fif­teen Pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates were also rejected, and some par­ties, includ­ing Fanmi Lavalas, refused to even reg­is­ter a Pres­i­den­tial can­di­date because of the election’s flaws. Fanmi Lavalas’ par­tic­i­pa­tion is par­tic­u­larly impor­tant because the party is by far Haiti’s most pop­u­lar. It has won every elec­tion it has con­tested, includ­ing 90 per­cent of the seats in the 2000 par­lia­men­tary elec­tions. But every party that ful­fills the require­ments of Haiti’s Con­sti­tu­tion and the Elec­toral Law should be allowed to participate.

Haiti’s Pro­vi­sional Elec­toral Coun­cil (CEP) has never issued a com­pre­hen­sive expla­na­tion for the exclu­sions. The exclu­sion of singer Wyclef Jean appeared jus­ti­fied– the Con­sti­tu­tion has a five-year res­i­dency require­ment in Haiti, while many accounts have Mr. Jean liv­ing in New Jer­sey. But Mr. Jean claims that he did, in fact, file doc­u­ments prov­ing his res­i­dency, and with­out a pub­lic expla­na­tion of the CEP deci­sion, it is hard to dis­miss his claims.

In the case of Fanmi Lavalas, the CEP pro­vided a series of infor­mal expla­na­tions, all regard­ing a man­date sent by the party’s exiled leader, for­mer Pres­i­dent Jean-Bertrand Aris­tide, from South Africa last Novem­ber. In fact, Fanmi Lavalas pre­sented an orig­i­nal man­date, authen­ti­cated by a Hait­ian notary that com­plies with Hait­ian law. Pres­i­dent Aris­tide sent a fax of the man­date directly to the PEC, and con­firmed its authen­tic­ity in a radio interview.

The CEP not only lacks a good rea­son for exclud­ing many can­di­dates and par­ties, it also lacks the con­sti­tu­tional legit­i­macy to do so. The Coun­cil is a Pro­vi­sional Coun­cil hand-picked by Haiti’s Pres­i­dent, René Pré­val, not the inde­pen­dent Per­ma­nent Coun­cil required by Haiti’s 1987 Constitution.

Last month, 45 mem­bers of the U.S. Con­gress, most of them Democ­rats — includ­ing Rep­re­sen­ta­tives Delahunt, Lynch, and Olver from Mass­a­chu­setts – wrote Sec­re­tary of State Hillary Clin­ton, warn­ing her that sup­port­ing flawed elec­tions “will come back to haunt the inter­na­tional com­mu­nity” by gen­er­at­ing unrest and threat­en­ing the imple­men­ta­tion of earth­quake recon­struc­tion projects. In July, Repub­li­can Sen­a­tor Richard Lugar was even more direct, warn­ing that “[the] absence of democratically elected successors could potentially plunge the country into chaos.” In Sep­tem­ber, over 2 dozen US-based human rights, reli­gious, devel­op­ment and sol­i­dar­ity orga­ni­za­tions urged Sec­re­tary Clin­ton to with­hold all aid until a new CEP had been formed and demon­strated a com­mit­ment to fair elections.

Haitians are fight ing the unfair elec tions in the streets, in the press, and at political meetings. Politi­cal organizations from across the spectrum — many of whom have agreed on little else for decades – have condemned the CEP’s exclu sions. Hait­ian vot­ers have seen enough elec­toral cha­rades to rec­og­nize one when they see it, and inter­est in the elec­tions is as low as the elec­tions’ stakes are high.

The last CEP – with most of the same mem­bers as the cur­rent one — dis­qual­i­fied Fanmi Lavalas and other par­ties from Sen­ate elec­tions held in April and June 2009. When the dis­qual­i­fi­ca­tions were first announced, the United States, the U.N. and the OAS denounced them as unde­mo­c­ra­tic. The U.S. Embassy warned that the exclu­sion would “inevitably’’ raise ques­tions about the election’s cred­i­bil­ity. But the CEP called the inter­na­tional community’s bluff and kept the excluded par­ties out. The inter­na­tional com­mu­nity blinked by not only accept­ing the flawed elec­tions, but pay­ing for them, too: inter­na­tional donors sup­plied $12.5 mil­lion, 72 per­cent of the election’s cost. Hait­ian vot­ers, know­ing a fraud when they see one, boy­cotted. The CEP’s offi­cial par­tic­i­pa­tion rate of 11 per­cent for the April elec­tions was low enough, but most observers put the real fig­ure at three to five percent.

The next Hait­ian gov­ern­ment will need to ask its cit­i­zens to make sac­ri­fices in order to imple­ment the recon­struc­tion plans. Peo­ple will have to relo­cate their homes and busi­nesses, go with­out water, gov­ern­ment ser­vices, even food and tol­er­ate many incon­ve­niences as the dam­aged cities are taken down and rebuilt in new ways. A gov­ern­ment can obtain these kinds of sac­ri­fices in two ways: it can develop trust, or it can use force. A gov­ern­ment elected by a small frac­tion of the vot­ers who could chose only par­ties approved by the out­go­ing gov­ern­ment will be hard-pressed to develop trust. We may have seen the future as Hur­ri­cane Tomas was approach­ing Haiti, and res­i­dents of the Corail-Cesselesse dis­place­ment camp refused an evac­u­a­tion order, even though they knew the camp risked deadly flood­ing and land­slides, because they did not trust the government’s promises that they could return after the storm.

If the new Hait­ian gov­ern­ment can­not induce trust, it will have to obtain its cit­i­zens’ coop­er­a­tion through force. Forc­ing large num­bers of peo­ple (there are 1.3 mil­lion home­less, for exam­ple) to do any­thing is dif­fi­cult; forc­ing peo­ple who have noth­ing to lose and have already suf­fered as much as they can bear, with a small and inex­pe­ri­enced police force, will be next to impos­si­ble. Try­ing to apply this force risks the chaos that Sen. Lugar warned of.

Nei­ther the Hait­ian nor United States gov­ern­ments appear will­ing to heed any of these warn­ings. The United States is send­ing $15 mil­lion to sup­port the elec­tions, while the State Depart­ment dodges ques­tions about the elec­tions’ flaws at press con­fer­ences. The Hait­ian gov­ern­ment has closed any dis­cus­sion of allow­ing excluded can­di­dates, while the government’s can­di­dates run an appar­ently well-financed cam­paign – there seem to be more posters for Pres­i­dent Préval’s INITE coali­tion than all other par­ties com­bined in Port-au-Prince.

Pres­i­dent John F. Kennedy warned that “those who make peace­ful rev­o­lu­tion impos­si­ble make vio­lent rev­o­lu­tion inevitable.” The Hait­ian and United States Admin­is­tra­tions seem bent on putting this maxim to the test, despite the risks. Hait­ian vot­ers have tried to com­mu­ni­cate their oppo­si­tion to exclu­sion­ary elec­tions in many ways: boy­cotting the 2009 votes, demon­strat­ing in the streets, reject­ing the elec­tions in the press and in polit­i­cal meet­ings. They will keep try­ing until they find a way that their gov­ern­ment, and ours, will lis­ten to.

Brian Con­can­non Jr. served as an OAS elec­tion observer and U.N. human rights offi­cer in Haiti and cur­rently directs the Boston-based Insti­tute for Jus­tice & Democ­racy in Haiti.