This post is also available in: Kreyol
(This post was originally written in Kreyòl)
Elections, the most important tool in a democracy, have become a whip on the back of the Haitian population, a people, a country looking for a formula for a better tomorrow.
The elections of August 9th, 2015 are clear proof that Haiti has a serious disease. We waited 4 years for these long overdue elections, only to end up with a demagogic mess. These words are not simply my opinion, but also the remarks of RNDDH one of the largest human rights organizations in the country. RNDDH had more than 1500 observers throughout the country on Election Day.
Starting at 6 am, voters took to the streets in search of their local stations. The first place I visited on August 9th was the polling station in Bel Air at Ecole National Dumarsais Estimé. Workers were counting ballots by candlelight in a small dark room, while security fought with proxies sent by political parties trying to enter the office but could not. After Bel Air, I went down to the Silvio Cator stadium one of the biggest polling places in Port-au-Prince. There, I found the same problems, political party’s proxies unable to enter the office. Only political parties like Verite, PHTK and Bouclier were given access to the center. This was also the case in Bel Air.
A proxy (mandatè in Kreyòl) is a representative that every political party or candidate sends to observe at polling centers. The electoral law grants every party and candidate (even independent ones) access to all polling centers through proxies to observe the process on election day. This practice comes from the lack of trust that exists in the Haitian electoral system, the proxy is tasked with observing the process on behalf of their party to ensure nothing fraudulent is happening. However, a lot of times, it is these very representatives that cause problems on election day in Haiti; proxies tend to stuff ballots and commit fraud for their candidate.
The electoral council (CEP) created a serious problem this past Election Day by not delivering permits for proxies in time. According to the president of the CEP, a man name Joseph Herbert Lucien who was responsible for delivering them ran away with the documents.
In the middle of the day, the president of the Electoral Council, Pierre Louis Opont, the Prime Minister Evans Paul and the Police Chief Gotson Orelus held a press conference expressing their satisfaction with the electoral process. The CEP president glossed over the questions regarding the political parties’ proxies. When asked a question regarding allegations that Joseph Herbert Lucien fled with the proxies’ documentation, Mr. Opont responded: “I am very satisfied with the way the electoral process is going. The CEP has taken every measure to reopen the voting centers that were closed so that the population can vote.” The Prime Minister agreed, and encouraged the population to exercise its civic duties by going out to vote; all the while ignoring the many irregularities throughout this electoral process.
In glossing over the issue regarding the political parties’ proxies, the CEP president showed his lack of responsibility throughout the electoral process. It was not until the end of the day that he finally acknowledged the difficulties encountered by the proxies to access the voting centers. However, not all of the political parties had problems accessing the voting centers. Those close to the government had access to all of the centers as early as 6am.
Technically, the issue with proxies is impossible to resolve the way elections are run in Haiti. Let’s say a city has 50 candidates, this means each candidate has the right to one proxy for each polling place in the city. If all 50 candidates were to gain the permits for their proxies, it would be physically impossible to fit all of them in one polling center. Issues of space and managing crowds would make this a difficult task.
The main culprit in all of this, however, is the corrupt political system that results in the poorly coordinated elections we always have. Albeit, Haiti is fairly new to democracy, even so, if you look at the evolution of the democratic system in Haiti, you will see we have more problems than necessary, and we are far from ever hosting fair elections.
Let’s take a look at past elections in Haiti: December 16,1990 was the first democratic election in Haiti. This election placed Jean Bertrand Aristide in office with a considerable majority of the votes. However, till this day, official results for these elections have never been announced. Thousands of people took to the streets that day to declare Aristide as president. Without contest, Aristide was named president because that is what the population wanted at the time. The 1990 elections set a precedent and paved the way for how things work today where the streets dictate election results. After the elections of December 16, 1990, every election has happened late, the leaders in office either feel too important or try to cheat their way out of organizing elections. It is as if Haiti has removed the dictatorship system in theory, yet it still remains somehow in practice. Such a political culture will never be able to organize honest and credible elections.
The 2010 presidential elections were particularly interesting. It was clear to many that President Preval was a manipulator, and was willing to do anything to place Jude Celestin, the INITE candidate, as president after him. They organized the legislative elections in a way for INITE to walk away with the victory even though the party had very weak support from voters. This was also the case for the presidential elections.
The Election Day of November 2010 was a huge disaster, fraud was rampant throughout the elections. Before 2:00 pm, about 10 of the candidates and political parties banded together to call for the elections to be canceled. 11 of the most popular candidates including Mirlande Manigat, Jean Henry Ceant and Michel Martelly held a press conference at a hotel calling for the elections to be canceled. It was quite a sight to see many candidates and political parties standing together against corruption and fraud, and demanding fair elections.
In the days that followed, the international community, namely the MINUSTAH representative, proposed a 2nd round between Martelly and Manigat be held. This proposition went against democratic norms because there was no trustworthy data available to prove who was truly ahead in the race. The available results that the CEP published showed Jude Celestin in first place, Mirlande Manigat in second, Jean Henry Ceant in third, and Michel Martelly fourth. Once again, as it is always done, people took to the streets to protest. Martelly supporters began burning tires, looting and barricading the streets. This is what was used as proof that Martelly had the most support among the electorate, this is how elections and politics happen in Haiti.
Which brings us back to the present: the recent elections held on August 9 2015 are a direct result of this marred political system that we have become accustomed to in Haiti. A system where the main actors have agreed to organize and participate in an electoral masquerade. The 2015 elections only happened because of pressure from the international community and the streets.
After 4 years without elections, the international community now needed people with legitimacy to serve as intermediary between them and the Haitian population. Haiti is currently being occupied by the United Nations and relies exclusively on international aid, therefore, it would be hard to have elections where every aspect of the process is not dictated by the international community.
Two days after the elections, the OAS and the European Union declared that they were satisfied with the electoral process; a position more akin to that of investors as opposed to true friends of Haiti. Journalists, local observers and the majority of public opinion have denounced the sham elections of August 9th. $35 million were spent to print ballots in Dubai, to purchase flimsy cardboard partitions and poor quality ink that washed off immediately. We find ourselves back where we were in 2010 with the international community once again standing up to defend all the money it spent to organize poor quality elections.
Today, Haitian democracy has died, we have been smacked around too much by the international community and with these sham elections, we continue to harm the country. Elections, the most important tool in a democracy, have become a whip on the back of the Haitian population, a people, a country looking for a formula for a better tomorrow. It is difficult to know the exact number or percentage of people who do not want good elections to take place in Haiti, but what is certain is that it is a sizable amount. Until we agree on democratic principles to put in place a trusting electoral council, we will continue to organize electoral carnivals.