Haiti’s electoral imbroglio: once again, no vote

Haiti’s electoral imbroglio: once again, no vote

Haiti’s presidential and legislative run-off elections were postponed for a fourth time, and the provisional government currently in place will last longer than the original 120 days accorded on 5 February. With violent protests taking place across the country and political paralysis impairing improvements in the country’s grave social and humanitarian problems, what is in store for Haiti in the coming months?

Haiti entered into a severe political crisis after the first round of presidential and parliamentary elections on 25 October 2015 was contested by the losers due to alleged electoral fraud. Since then, a second round between the front-runner Jovenel Moise, supported by exiting president Michel Martelly, and oppositionist Jude Celestin was successively rescheduled for security reasons. Additionally, the country has witnessed high levels of politically motivated violence.

Haiti is currently in the hands of a caretaker administration created by an agreement signed less than 48 hours before the term of president Martelly ended on 7 February, led by the former president of the Senate, Jocelerme Privert. A new president was supposed to take office by 14 May, but the provisional government decided on 18 April to suspend the ballot scheduled for 25 April, triggering immediate demonstrations and raising to certainty the prospects of the administration exceeding its original mandate.

When should a vote finally be held?

No official date has been established for a new ballot, but Privert has already stated that elections won’t happen before October for two reasons: first, a vote will only happen after an electoral verification commission in charge of investigating alleged irregularities in the first round issues its final report, which will happen, if on time, by the end of May. Second, elections for the country’s Senate are schedule for 30 October, thus pulling off two national elections separately in such a short period would be extremely costly.

Both of his reasons are sound. Besides, due to the magnitude of the crisis, rushing to follow the unrealistic timetable established for the provisional government could have potentially done more harm than good. The delay could provide the country an opportunity to guarantee a less contested ballot and restore public confidence in the electoral process.

Two main risks arise from putting elections on hold: first, it is still uncertain whether the Haitian population can put up with an unelected government that was not supposed to last for so long. As long as no date is established for a new vote, tensions will remain heightened and political violence will remain a constant threat. Second, there is also a good chance that, whatever the ruling of the verification commission, its decision will be questioned by the losing side, who would challenge the independence of the commission and continue to prolong the political stalemate.

External Pressure

Internationally, other actors, notably the UN, the EU and the US, have already voiced their desire for Haiti to hold elections as soon as possible, with little concern about verifying the results of the first round. The weight of these actors’ opinions is especially significant for Haiti, given that a large portion of the costs associated with Haitian elections are covered by the international community. However, the provisional government has shown no signs that it would be willing to rush elections.

External influence is unlikely to wane. In such an unstable scenario, for example, it is extremely likely that the mandate of the UN Stabilization Mission for Haiti (MINUSTAH), which is due to expire in October, will be extended, despite the aversion from the sector of the population that dislikes the continuing presence of peacekeepers and foreign interference in the country. The protests against an OAS political mission sent to the country in January, intended to mediate a political settlement, provide evidence of this public dissatisfaction.

Privert as an unlikely balancer

Under the interim presidency of Privert, the government has, so far, worked better than it had during the turbulent final months of Martelly’s presidency.

During the first weeks of the provisional government, the country witnessed a remarkable decrease in demonstrations and the parliament became less polarized, mainly due to the way in which the interim president managed to find common ground between the combative parties. In the beginning of April, the confirmation of Enex Jean-Charles by consensus as new prime minister, and the appointment of a new electoral commission a few days later, showed that the parliament, with the leadership of Privert, still has a chance to function despite the dispute regarding the elections.

The administration, however, has to move quickly to establish a new date for elections if it wants to remain seen as legitimate. The president also has to convince all sides that he doesn’t intend to hold on to power.

A distracted country

Perhaps the biggest problem with the prolonged wrangling over elections is that Haiti has lost focus when it comes to humanitarian and social problems, which will probably be major sources of unrest in the coming months.

Agricultural production has taken a hard hit due to droughts caused by the El Niño phenomenon, increasing economic hardship in an already poor country. According to the UN, the country faces the worst levels of food insecurity since 2001. Haiti also has to deal with incomplete reconstruction work from the 2010 earthquake, rampant criminality in the face of an ill-equipped police force, and the risks associated with the Zika outbreak. With all of this going on, it seems that the population won’t really be able to depend on its government for help.

Categories: Latin America, Politics

About Author

Darli Magioni

Darlí Magioni focuses on Latin America. He has worked for the Brazilian Ministry of External Relations and AKE Group. He holds a bachelor’s degree in International Relations from the University of Brasilia and is currently enrolled in King’s College London’s MA in International Peace and Security.