Author Archives: Roody Réserve

Haiti – An abrupt end to a brief presidential honeymoon

Since his inauguration, 8 months ago, as the constitutional President of Haiti, Jovenel Moise has had a relatively peaceful honeymoon period. The natural sense of wait-and-see that comes with a new administration and the additional “help” of tropical storms and hurricanes contributed to some months of political calm. But, since the beginning of July an apparently harmless string of protests for an increase in the minimum wage has led to many actors taking off the gloves. Now daily protests including some very violent ones have become routine in the streets in Port-au-Prince.

Jovenel Moise began his mandate as a very active president. Fulfilling the campaign pledge to act primarily in the interests of the peasants, he proposed initiatives such as the electrification of localities in the countryside or and the boosting of farm production. These actions have contributed to a relatively well regarded president in the provinces, but with less to show to the residents of the cities. With frequent visits to and many projects in rural areas, Jovenel has converted himself into an omnipresent President. In the process, he has entirely eclipsed his Primer Minister and the government. Litle is known about the government and, if it was not for some corruption scandals that have been revealed by the press, many ministers would have gone unnoticed. With full control over parliament (the president’s party controls both chambers) the president operates as the de facto head of the government, negotiating directly with the legislators.

The reality of a president who operates without any check from the legislative branch is playing for now at least in his favor. For the first time since 1986, a president was able to obtain the ratification of his first choice as Prime Minister. Also, for the first time in many years, he was able to present a budget and have it approved on time. But, in an unstable political context as is usually the case in Haiti, this situation can be harmful in the long run for Jovenel Moise. If the opposition succeeds in convincing the public that the government is ineffective, then since the president is seen as the main actor of the government, the departure of the Prime Minister will not be perceived as a genuine solution to the problem. The practice of using the Prime Minister as a scapegoat to deflect political pressure from the president will be less likely.

With the violent protests that have been under way lately, the opposition has begun to test the popularity of the government. Unsurprisingly, the movement began in Port-au-Prince, in the slum cities where the president is less active. The pretext was the publication by the president of the budget for the next fiscal year. The protesters argue that the spending plans do not tackle the social conditions of the country and that they do not allocate enough resources to important areas as health care, education and judicial system. In this context, parliament also approved a scandalous increase in its allocation, a 74% increase compared to the previous fiscal exercise (102% for deputies and, the senate 55%).

There is no doubt that the budget does not address the many difficulties that the country is facing. But, it also evident that the protests can’t be explain solely by the shortcomings of the budget. The protests should be read as the new opening of the political drama. After last year’s elections that Jovenel and his PHTK won without appeal, the opposition needed desperately an opportunity to become relevant. The budget gives them that opportunity. How the situation evolves will depend on the capacity of the government to deactivate the mobilization of other sectors that are hoping to extract some concessions from the government and on the ability of the opposition to convince others of the inefficacy of the government.

Haiti – Jovenel Moise: A novel politician for a fluid political context

On February 7 Jovenel Moise was sworn in as the 47th president of Haiti. It was the beginning of 2015 when the word came out that Michel Joseph Martelly, then president of Haiti, had chosen Jovenel Moise as the candidate of his PHTK party in the presidential election that was scheduled to take place the same year. At least two things stood out with regard to this choice. First, Martelly left out other potential candidates from his own political organization and decided without consultation to enthrone Moise. The second element was the newness of the  chosen candidate. He had never participated in politics before.

Prior to his presidential candidacy, Jovenel Moise was an entrepreneur in the agroindustrial sector. He was known for his efforts to secure financial aid for his businesses and not for his political ambitions. But, in a political context where parties are weak and the president holds all the levers of power, Martelly was able to impose his protégé. Even though two elections were necessary to secure the triumph of Moise, the ex-president finally won his gamble. The question is now how will the new president govern, how will his political inexperience factor in with the structural problems he inherited and, how will he position himself in relation to his allies who are preparing the return of Michel Martelly.

Even though Jovenel Moise easily won the election in the first round, there are structural weaknesses to his presidency. First, only 15% of the electorate participated in the elections. Because the opposition was very weak, it has been was enable to use the results against the president. Despite efforts to mobilize against what they dubbed as a rigged elections, they were unable to convince the population that it was worth continuing with the protests in the street. But, any connoisseur of the Haitian situation would still point to the fact that this lack of support could be used against the president in the future.

The PHTK was founded by then president Michel Martelly. Many of the party’s legislators who now control both chambers of the parliament, through alliances with other parties, are considered to be loyal partners of Martelly. During his first months in office, Moise seems to have been able to reign in these politicians. He successfully resisted pressure from his political allies and appointed a prime minister, who parliament actually confirmed, who had no relationships with the political class. In order to boost his political capital, he has embarked in a national tour, which, according to his communication team, will present solutions suitable to each locality.

Meanwhile, many crises are looming and they have the potential to disrupt the new president. Beside persistent structural economic problems, the social situation has also been tense in the  first 5 months of the presidency. Members of several union organizations have mobilized, demanding a rise in their wage. So far, politicians have been kept out of the  protest movement. But, knowing the structural weaknesses of the president and political system in Haiti, it could only be a matter of time before things get ugly.

Haiti – The end of the transition

After a year of crisis and uncertainty, Jovenel Moise was sworn in as the 58th president of Haiti on February 7. The ceremony marks the end of the transition period that began on the same date last year with the departure of President Martelly. In a stunning reversal of fortunes, his party (the PHTK) went from being tossed out of power to now securing the control of the two branches of government: the Legislative (both chambers) and the Executive. Elections that were expected to mark the burial of the legacy of PHTK’s politicians turned out to be ones that vindicated the previous administration. In this post, we point out some obstacles that might lie ahead of the new government, despite the triumphal appearance of the last few days.

Despite having won at the first round of the election by a healthy margin (55.6% versus 19.5% for his nearest competitor) and which should give President Moise some much needed room in which to maneuver, certain structural weaknesses might prevent him from benefiting from his seeming popularity. The truth of the matter is that he has won by default, with little support of the elegible voters, with an opposition that is already questioning his legitimacy, and an accusation of money laundering pending in the judicial system.

Table I shows the level of participation in the last presidential election. On average, only 18% of citizens went to the polls. That average is lower in two key Departments, Ouest and Artibonite, where most voters are concentrated (54% of the total voters). These two regions are also known as the two most active areas for protests and political demonstrations. In fact, the mobilization against Martelly was mostly confined to Port-au-Prince, the capital and the most important city in the Ouest.

Table I. Participation in the elections of November 2016, by Department

Department # elegible citizens # of votes cast Turnout (%)
Ouest 2,407,133 361,496 15,01
Sud-Est 317,884 72,037 22,6
Nord 573,179 122,355 21,3
Nord-Est 230,734 53,051 23
Artibonite 760,153 129,831 17,07
Centre 392,791 81,425 20,7
Sud 444,955 82,043 18,4
Grande-Anse 241,974 54,916 22,6
Nord-Ouest 308,988 58,030 18,7
Nippes 193,659 47,655 24,6
Total 5,871,450 1,062,839 18,1

Jude Célestin, Moise Jean Charles, and Maryse Narcisse (who together won 39.6% of the votes) used the courts to challenge the electoral results. After the verification of the results, the Electoral Council (CEP) confirmed the election of Jovenel Moise. However, supporters of all three former candidates took to the street to contest the decision. In the end, they failed to generate widespread protests against the CEP’s decision. Nonetheless, they have declared the election of Moise illegitimate and have vowed to oppose his government by any means. So far, they have avoided any form of contact with the president elect (and since February 7 the president) and decided not to participate in his inauguration ceremony.

If recent history can serve as a blue print for what might come in the future, it is worth remembering that the allegations against the legitimacy of a president has been used in the past for waging permanent protests against the incumbent administration. In the case of President Aristide in 2004, these protests led lead to his premature departure. In other cases, chronic instability was the result.

As president elect, Jovene Moise has been forced to declare before an investigating judge that, as an entrepreneur, he might have commited the crime of money laundering. The accusations were floated during the electoral campaign in a report from the Unité Centrale de Renseignements Financiers (UCREF), which is responsible for investigating financial fraud in Haiti. Moise denied the accusations and his allies argue that they were orchestrated by the government to discredit their candidate. Independently of the veracity of the allegations, the fact is that the president has taken office and the judge has not yet completed the investigation. Whatever the outcome, there is no doubt that the accusations could come back to haunt the president. If the judge decides not to proceed any further, the opposition will denounce the role of the judicial system and if the decision is to indict the president, the next new political crisis will be on the horizon.

In a nutshell, the inauguration of Jovenel Moise as the 58th president of Haiti means that the transition is now complete. Power has changed hands peacefully and a president and legislators chosen in the polls are in charge of the country. In contrast to his predecessor, the new president can count on his party and allies to use their majority in both chambers to take swift actions to redress the economy and make important changes in the lives of the citizens. But, as we have seen in this post, many challenges lied ahead. The legitimacy won from the polls will not suffice to govern.

Haiti – Last-chance elections?

On 9 October 2016, for the second time in less than a year, the first round of a presidential elections will be held in Haiti. The country will experience a very difficult electoral event, which will have tremendous impact on its stability in the near feature. This post intends to assess the political conjuncture on the eve of this event. It will focus on the readiness of the new Electoral Council, the expectations of the most important actors, and the likelihood of successfully handing the presidential sash to a constitutionally elected president on February 7, 2017.

The new Electoral Council (CEP in French), which was appointed in March to organize the elections (presidential and the completion of the legislative), has so far managed not to be the main focus of the political battle. Despite some criticisms about some important organizational decisions, it is a fact that the main political news and comments are no longer concentrating on the performance of this institution.

The relative acceptance of the work of the CEP means that the political actors have been able to express their political visions more openly. A total of 27 candidates are running for the presidency, which is down form 54 in the previous electoral process. Only four of these candidates have any real possibility of being elected. Jovenel Moise, from the pro-Martelly camp, represents the right that arrived for the first time to the presidency in 2010 with the election of the former president. Maryse Narcisse and Moise Jean Charles are associated with the left. Both are basically competing in the same political space. Finally, Jude Célestin occupies a more central ideological position.

Despite the clear ideological differences between the candidates, the election is not being fought on an ideological basis. The pro- and anti-Martelly camp is the main cleavage that will define the results at the second round of the election. Since Jovenel Moise (Party PHTK) is expected to be in the second round, Moise Jean Charles, Maryse Narcisse, and Jude Célestin are basically competing to make it through to the second ballot where, eventually, they will form a coalition against the protégé of the former president.

A particularity of this political process is the relative weakness of all the actors. When Martelly was in power the opposition denounced the use of the state apparatus in favor of Jovenel Moise. But now, with the departure of the ex-president, his protégé has the press pulpit to advance his case. Even though the current interim president, Jocelerme Privert, is more inclined to favor the former opposition, its own weakness and the high number of opposition candidates (three) prevents any meaningful intervention by Privert.

The party PHTK legislators have managed to tie down Jocelerme Privert, the interim president. Even though his original mandate expired on June and should have been renewed in order to for him to serve as a fully legitimate caretaker president, they chose for political reasons not to reappoint him. In this context, while they do regular business with the government and the president, they can still raise the fact that he has not been approved by the legislators to question his legitimacy.

In this sense, as is the case with the CEP, Privert and his government have not so far been a focal point in this electoral process. His government has not intervened (or has not been able to do so in any decisive way) in favor of the candidates of the former opposition. While some decisions made by the government can be interpreted in the sense of an intervention against the candidate of the party PHTK (for example, a report produced by a branch of the government of alleged money laundering activities against Jovenel Moise has been circulated on the internet), it is not clear who would benefit from any such interventions. The three candidates that could reap the benefits of the government intervention are busier watching and tackling each other than attacking their opponent on the right.

In some respects, the political situation in Haiti is exactly where all the actors would, by default, like it to be. No one seems to have the upper hand. No sector has the ability to dominate any other. Even the International Community, which has been very influential in political events in Haiti in the last decades, now has less power to influence the actors. In order to punish the opposition for their decision to denounce the results of the last election, the US government decided not to fund the organization of this election. With this decision they also lost a certain ability to influence the decision in their preferred way.

The weakness of all the actors provides a unique opportunity for good elections. This is the first time since the departure of Duvalier in 1986 that at this stage of the electoral process no one seems to have the power and resources to  dictate the outcome alone. This situation might affect the behavior of the actors and prevent them from being too aggressive. It is possible, therefore, that if this situation holds for the rest of the process these elections will not be rigged and may finally lead to a peaceful transfer of power in 2017.

Haiti – A country on Autopilot

Joseph Michel Martelly’s presidency ended without a successor being directly elected. The interim president, Jocelerme Privert, has not yet been able to fulfil his mandate to organize new elections. Even though political tensions have somewhat abated, the country is still not out the woods. This post offers a brief overview of the political situation since February, with a focus on the behavior and calculations of the principal actors.

On February 14 when Privert was sworn in to lead the interim government the mandate was clear: He had to complete the electoral process in 120 days. The agreement between then outgoing President Martelly and the Presidents of both the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies clearly stipulated that within this timeframe the interim president had to appoint a new government, reconstitute the Electoral Council (CEP in French), put in place the technical recommendations of the Independent Commision of Evaluation of the elections (CIEVE, in French), and organize the second round of the presidential and parliamentary elections.

It was clear both to Privert and to most of the political actors that it would be impossible to respect this deadline. Indeed, Privert was elected seven days after the departure of Martelly, not within the 48 hours set out in the agreement. The new CEP was installed on March 30, nearly a month after the interim President took office. The CIEVE was put in place on April 14 and handed in its recommendations more than a month later on May 29. What is more, the CIEVE recomended not the continuation of the presidential election, but its cancellation altogether.

The first 120 days of interim president Privert’s office have now passed and he has been unable to fullfill the key objective of the transition: handing over the presidential sash to a newly elected president. The CEP has set the first round of the presidential and parliamentary elections for October 9 and the second round for January 8, 2017. Thus, the transition will have lasted almost 365 days, instead of the 120 previously agreed. In this context, the most important question for the principal actors has revolved around what strategy to adopt given this new timetable.

So far the transition has rewarded some actors and punished others. Some are weaker than when the process began. Others are in better position today than before. Others still are looking for a way to reinter the game, after having previously been pushed out by other actors. For simplicity, I will refer to these three groups of actors as pro-Martelly camp, the International Community, and the Opposition during the Martelly government.

The International Community is the group that has lost out the most during this process. From the start, the International Community (namely the United States of America, the European Union, the OAS and the UN) assumed that they could force the opposition to the Martelly government to accept any electoral results independently of their assesment of the fairness and transparency of the process. After the first round of the parliamentary elections on August 2015, while some key actors in the opposition were denouncing widespread fraud, the International Community supported the CEP. The same situation occurred when the results of the first round of the presidential election were published. The opposition parties took to the streets to denounce the results. Meanwhile the International Community was working behind closed doors to force the result to be accepted. When the first Commision of Evaluation put in place by President Martelly recommended a thorough evaluation of the situation and measures to build confidence in the process, the representatives of International Community looked the other way. They were against the idea of interim president and, naturally, are opposed to the most recent recommendations for new presidential elections.

The representatives of the European Union have left the country to signal their opposition. The US Department of the State has made it clear that it will not support new elections financially. It goes without saying that the decision not to fund the CEP will have important repercussions for the already difficult budgetary situation of the Haitian government. But, it means also that the International Community will have less say in the political process.

The decision of the International Community to turn its back on the electoral process has meant that its protegé, the pro-Martelly camp, also has less power to impose an outcome on its adversaries. The various strategies adopted by this group are good example of how they have gauged their strength. At the beginning they were against any concessions to the opposition. Their analysis of the elections converged with that of the International Community. But, once it was clear the second round of the presidential election would not take place, they supported the interim solution agreed between Martelly and the leaders of the two houses of parliament. Their candidate for the new presidential election, Jovenel Moise, has now been chosen.

The most recent strategy of the pro-Martelly camp has been the decision not to permit a vote in the chambers on the continuation of Privert as interim president. The agreement stipulates that if elections were not held in 120 days, legislators should convene and decide what to do. The pro-Martelly group argues that this should mean the end of the Privert government. However, they do not have enough votes to force out the interim president. Consequently they have decided not to participate in parliamentary meetings. This means that since July 14, there is a president without any legitimacy, waiting to be confirmed by the Parliament.

The former opposition to the Martelly government is in a far better situation than it was before the beginning of the transition. In some measure, it has the control of the state apparatus. But it has two formidable opponents in the pro-Martelly camp and the International Community. The new situation has forced them to evolve their strategy from one of trying to derail the system to one that wants to protect the status quo. They are now more interested in keeping Privert in power than any of the other actors.

The future will show how the situation evolves in Haiti. For the moment, with a president without legitimacy, an International actor with less leverage over the key internal actors, and the pro-Martelly group being branded as corrupt, the country is almost literally on automatic pilot.

Haiti – The political situation in flux

Joseph Michel Martelly finished his term as president on February 7 2016. As expected, he handed the presidential sash to the president of the National Assembly, Jocelerme Privert. 7 days later, the same Privert was sworn in as interim president for 120 days, to conclude the electoral process that Martelly has been unable to close. This post analyses the political events that have taken place since the departure of Martelly and the implications for the electoral process and political stability in Haiti in the near future.

The consequences of the end of the Martelly era

The failure to hand the presidential sash to a constitutionally elected president on February 7, meant that the worst nightmare of Michel Martelly became true. The election of Privert by the legislators put a hold on the political ambitions of the heirs of Martelly. In practice, since February 14 the opposition forces that contested Martelly in the streets have held the political initiative. Privert has been maneuvering to sidestep the caretaker government left in place by the president.

Two days before leaving office, Martelly signed an agreement with the leaders of the assembly and the senate that would serve as a blueprint for the transition until new elections. The accord stipulates that the parliament would elect an interim president, who would establish a new electoral council, evaluate the results of the first round of the elections, and organise the remaining electoral contests on April 24. The inauguration of a newly elected president is scheduled to take place on May 14.

More than 30 days after the election of the interim president, the political process has been stalled. Privert has not been able to form a new government. He has also been unable to convince the legislators allied with the party of Martelly to vote for the chosen prime minister, Fritz Jean. The leaders of these legislators have voiced concerns about the fact that the nomination of Fritz Jean means giving absolute control to the former opposition to Martelly. In this sense, more than one month after the departure of Martelly, the political situation is still not clear in Haiti.

What should we expect from now?

The departure of Martelly on February 7 has left a clear political winner: the opposition parties that took to the streets to contest his political decisions and the elections. Since then, many of the members of these parties have official entry to the palace and the president. Street protests have mostly been silent. All actors are trying to manoeuvre the situation so as not to lose ground and have enough leverage to influence the political process when the elections are held. In this sense the actual political situation in Haiti is tense but calm with actors expecting a clash over the political process.

The forces that derailed Martelly’s plan to hand over the presidency to Jovenel Moise have so far had the upper hand. An interim president was sworn in, a new electoral council (CEP), mostly containing former critics of the previous CEP, will take over the electoral process; a commission for evaluating the electoral process will be formed. We can be almost certain that the candidate of the PHTK, the party of the former president, will find it very difficult to win the upcoming elections.

But in this context many important questions remain unanswered. First it is not clear how the groups allied with Martelly will react when it becomes clear that they will lose power to influence the course of the political events in Haiti. Are they going to use the streets as their opponents did during the government of Martelly? Are they going to use the paramilitary forces that threatened to defend Martelly in his final days in office? Will each legislator try to save his own situation indivually? History shows that the structural weakness of political parties plays against any group strategy in Haiti. Influential politicians agree to particular deals to advance their own situation to the detriment of other members of their groups.

The second series of questions concerns the behaviour of the members of the opposition? Are they going to maintain their alliance in order to confront the challenges posed by the Martelly camp? So far the parties that formed the former opposition have been unified in the face of the challenges they had to overcome in order to win the battle against Martelly. Here too history has shown that unity is not a path always favoured by Haitian politicians.

Finally, as we enter the second month of the presidency of Jocelerme Privert still awaiting the formation of the new electoral council, it is almost certain that 120 days will not suffice to organize the elections. In this sense, it is probable that the parliament will need to prolong the mandate of the interim president and its government. What kind of guarantee  will Privet give in order to secure the continuity of the presidency?

It will be necesarry to watch very closely the behaviour of the actors in the coming days to have clear answers to these interrogations. But what is clear is that the short-term political future of Haiti hinges upon their response. The way they interpret their interest will dictate the degree of political instability that lies ahead.

Haiti – Chronicle of a presidential election failure foretold

The Haitian President, Michel Joseph Martelly, will leave office without completing a single election during his five-year term. On Friday 22 January the president of the Electoral Council (CEP) announced what for the opposition parties and the most relevant sectors of civil society was a foregone conclusion weeks ago, namely that it was not possible to organize the presidential runoff that was scheduled to take place on Sunday 24 January. The head of the CEP, Pierre Louis Opont, declared that his concern for the security of voters and poll workers was the main reason for the cancellation of the elections. As evidence, he cited a dozen cases of violent acts against electoral officials and polling buildings.

Besides the escalation of violence in the last days, the final decision to adjourn sine die the elections is the results of a lack of trust of the opposition parties in the CEP and the government. Jude Célestin, the candidate who was supposed to oppose Jovenel Moise, the protégé of President Martelly in the electoral runoff, declared three days earlier he would not participate in any electoral event organized by the CEP. In fact, since the announcement of the results of the first round of the presidential election he decided not to campaign until the allegations of massive fraud in favor of Moise were investigated by an independent commission of experts.

The other presidential candidates, especially Moise Jean Charles and Maryse Narcisse, respectively placed in third and fourth at the first round according to the results published by the CEP, also denounced the elections. While other opponents concentrated their efforts on street protests, Narcisse used the recourse in the electoral law. A sample of 50 electoral acts confirmed the allegation of fraud of the opposition. All of the acts confirmed important irregularities that, according to the electoral law, were sufficient to warrant their invalidation, which is what the CEP finally did. But, instead of deciding to completely reject the entire electoral process, the decision was to close the process of contestation.

This last decision seals the fate of the elections, the President, and the CEP. Street protests and violence escalated. President Martelly, Pierre-Louis Opont, the Ambassador of the US in Haiti, the delegations of the Organisations of American States (OAS), the Core-group (friends of Haiti), and European Commision were the only actors that could not understand the situation. Previously, three members of the CEP had presented their resignation. A candidate at the Legislative Assembly elections admitted to having bribed two members of the Electoral Council in other to win the election in his district. Meanwhile, the president had appointed a special commission to analyze the validity of the elections. The commision found important anomalies in another 296 electoral acts, recommending a thorough evaluation of the results and a dialogue between all parties involved before holding the runoff. But, with the backing of the US, the OAS and the Core-group the President decided to ignore the recommendation of his own commission, publish the electoral results, and schedule the elections for January 24.

Meanwhile the opposition decided to escalate its protests. Friday 22 January was especially violent. At least one person was killed and several schools and other public buildings were burned down across the country. The Conference of the Roman Catholic Bishops, several other actors from the Civil Society, declared their opposition to the electoral contest. Face with this new situation, and against the will of the president and the International Community, Pierre Louis Opont, decided to cancel the elections.

After the cancellation of the elections the opposition parties are now pushing for the resignation of the President, before the completion of his constitutional term on 7 February. Because of the proximity of this date it is almost impossible that they will be successful, but their ongoing mobilisation marks an outstanding victory against the government, the US and other powerful international actors and could serve at least two short-term purposes: setting the terms of the transitional government that will replace Martelly and influencing the next Electoral Council.

Our main preoccupation in this post was to highlight the potential lack of legitimacy of the elected authorities coming out of this election circle. Without doubt recent political events have worsened the problem. But, at the same time, they represent a unique opportunity for the political system. Because of the weakness and divergent interests of all the actors involved, including the opposition parties and the International community, the situation can force the actors to put in place an Electoral Council that is truly independent and that can guarantee fairness for all.