Category Archives: Caribbean

Haiti – The next elections are never too far away

In the second year of his presidency Jovenel Moise could use this old saying, “I pray God to deliver me from my friends, so that I can defend myself from my enemies”, to characterize the reality of his relationship with the members of the coalitions around the party PHTK that made possible his past electoral successes. In the absence of an opposition with enough strength to control the government, the infighting in his own camp has been in full display in the last months.

The first issue concerned the composition of the cabinet. One year after the inauguration of the presidency, many legislators from the PHTK are unhappy with the way the government is holding itself. Around March of this year, some of the leaders in the two houses of parliaments begun to ask for major changes in the government. The president stated publicly on many occasions that he thought his government was doing a good job and that he did not think it was necessary to let go of some of the ministers.

But around April 20 the political situation accelerated rapidly. A group of legislators registered a motion of interpellation against the prime minister and demanded changes in 72 hours, or the government would face a no-confidence vote. Before the ultimatum had expired, the president announced the replacement of 5 ministers. Table I shows the name of the new and old head of each Ministry.

Table I. New names in the Cabinet in Haiti

Minister

Name of the new minister

Name of the old minister

Interior and Territorial Communities

Jean Mary Reynaldo Brunet

Rudolph St. Albin

Justice

Jean Roudy Aly

Heidi Fortuné

Agriculture, Natural Resources and Rural Development

Jobert C. Angrand

Carmel Béliard

Culture and Communication

Guyler C. Delva

Limond Toussaint

Haitians Living Abroad

Guy André Junior Francois

Stéphanie Auguste (she held the post in interim)

The new Ministers, especially in the case of Brunet and Delva, respectively Ministers of Interior and Culture and Communication, are known for their close relationship with former president Martelly, whose ambitions to become president again is a growing concern among some of his detractors. But, at the same time, the changes also demonstrate the nervousness among some legislators of the PHTK about the next parliamentary elections, which are due in the second semester of 2019.

The changes to the composition of the government come in the context of an intense debate about the best way to combat the rising level of insecurity that many communities have been experiencing in the last months. The representatives of the PHTK in parliament know that it will be difficult to secure another term with the high level of insecurity that the country is facing in this moment. Hence their desire to regain some  of the initiative through the changes to the Ministers of Justice and Interior. That gives them both a chance to try new approaches and, in passing, a tool to control the territory prior to the scheduled parliamentary elections of next year.

So far, the solutions introduced by the new ministers of Interior and Justice have not convinced any one. In face of the insecurity, they have prioritized a strategy of open confrontation with the gang members that has produced many victims in the communities already besieged by them. The Minister of Justice has gone so far as to jail journalists that allow gangs members to use their programs. In a letter sent to their associations, he declared that those who open their microphone to gang members will be considered as their accomplices.

At the same time, the Minister of Justice has decided to modify, through a presidential decree, the ability of the National Director of the Police to control the troops. The new decree, in a decision that clearly runs contrary to the law, obliges the head of the Police to seek the approval of the Higher Council of the Police, a political institution directed by the Primer Minister, for any changes to the rank and file of the institution. The new decision has been interpreted as an effort to politicize the operation of the institution.

Ironically, the changes in the cabinet that were designed to give the governing party more space to manoeuvre have generated more problems for the government. Even the weak and fragmented opposition has found a new reason to try to reactivate its troops against the government.

Many PHTK legislators have publicly criticised the government. Some are still unhappy about the scope of the changes in the cabinet. Others think that changes in the government should also address other pressing social problems. Many are against the idea being discussed by the government to stop subsidizing gas prices, which represent around 2% of the GDP while Health spending is just 0.8% of the GDP.

In this sense, Jovenel Moise has a real dilemma on his hands. His principal critics are now his own ‘allies’. The actual fight for the control of the government might even foretell the results of the next presidential election in 2021.

Cuba – Miguel Díaz-Canel becomes President

As I am writing this, the Cuban President, Raúl Castro, will step down from his post to allow the current vice-president, Miguel Díaz-Canel, to become Cuba’s new president (and the fifth president since the revolution of 1959). This will form the culmination of a meeting of Cuba’s National Assembly, which convened on Wednesday and named Díaz-Canel as the sole candidate to take over from Castro. Significantly, Díaz-Canel will be the first president since 1976 that is not a Castro, and the first president since 1959 that is not considered a figurehead for a Castro-run government.

Raúl Castro, who is now 86, and who took over as president from his brother, Fidel Castro, in 2006, is thought to be stepping aside to ensure the stability of the transition in the midst of a growing economic crisis and increasing dissatisfaction among Cubans, particularly the younger generation. Raúl oversaw a number of liberalizing economic reforms from 2008 on, which expanded Cuba’s private sector, but which also have also increased inequality among Cubans. At the same time, the state productive sector has remained mired in over-employment and productivity problems.

At 57, Díaz-Canel is the first leader since the revolution that is not part of the revolutionary guerilla generation – he did not march down from the Sierra Maestra with Che Guevara or Fidel. In contrast, his political experience mostly stems from the period of economic crisis in the 1990s, after the Soviet Union collapsed and stopped purchasing Cuban sugar at preferential rates and subsiding Cuban oil consumption, and he gained a reputation as an able technocrat in Villa Clara province. His support for LGBT rights, his use of an iPad, and his defense of disgruntled blogging teachers, are thought to signal a modernizer but nearly all analysts point to a likely continuation of the status quo, at least in the short to medium term. And if reform does occur, it will be of a gradual nature, given that Díaz-Canel is effectively a hand-picked and trained internal successor.

What is more, this is still far from a break with the past. Raúl Castro will still remain as head of the Communist Party of Cuba, arguably one of the most powerful positions in the country, while the vice-president has been named as Ramiro Valdés, an 85 year old veteran of the revolution who was with Fidel at the famous and symbolic attack on the Moncada Barracks in 1953.

In fact, this current period in Cuban history, as Díaz-Canel assumes the presidential office, is analogous in many ways to the period of the 1990s, when he first cut his teeth as a Cuban politician. The economy is faltering and the US embargo, long hailed as a Cold War hangover, is very much back in vogue under the current Trump administration after the liberalizing reforms of the Obama administration. US embassy staff in Havana have been called home amidst allegations of covert sonic attacks on the embassy. The Venezuela government under Hugo Chávez, which had reprised the old Soviet Union role of economic subsidizer and source of cheap oil, is now no longer able to play this role as their own economic and political situation descends into chaos and crisis. All of this, leaves Cuba under significant economic and international pressure.

Díaz-Canel will need to address the economic stagnation, Cuba’s problematic dual currency system, and the debt overhang, much of which has already been restructured by China. In addition, increasing hostility from Miami and the US government will only make the task of stepping out from the Castros’ shadow even more difficult.

Wouter Veenendaal – Suriname’s Desi Bouterse: A Leopard Who Doesn’t Change His Spots?

This is a guest post by Wouter Veenendaal of Leiden University

After the watershed parliamentary elections of 2010, Suriname’s former military dictator Desi Bouterse was installed as the country’s president. While his rise to power in 1980 occurred by means of a military coup, this time Bouterse was democratically elected, receiving the two-thirds parliamentary supermajority required to indirectly elect a president. Upon the termination of his military regime in 1987, when multiparty elections were reintroduced in the small South American country, Bouterse established the National Democratic Party (NDP) to maintain his power base in the democratic system. While the NDP lingered in opposition for most of the subsequent decades, Bouterse gradually constructed a professional political movement that ultimately was able to defeat the traditional Surinamese parties.

As a result of the colonial legacy marked by (forced) migration, Suriname is a profoundly multicultural society, composed of four or five cultural segments, none of which constitutes a majority. Upon the extension of the suffrage in 1948, the first political parties were formed on the basis of ethnic identification and mobilization, with the aim to emancipate, represent, and cater to specific ethnic groups. While the 1980 coup and subsequent military regime aimed to bring an end to ethnic politics, after the return of democracy the old ethnically-based parties reemerged, and won elections in a coalition named New Front. In contrast to the New Front-parties, Bouterse’s NDP was established as an avowedly multi- or pan-ethnic party, claiming to be the only ‘national’ party of Suriname because it seeks to represent all different groups living in the country.

Bouterse’s election to the presidency in 2010 cannot be seen separately from the legal process relating to the so-called December Murders, in which he is the main suspect. During Bouterse’s military regime, on 8 December 1982, fifteen prominent Surinamese men who criticized the dictatorship were murdered by the military. After a lengthy legal investigation by the Surinamese judiciary, in November 2007 – twenty-five years after the crimes were committed – a criminal proceeding against Bouterse and twenty-four other suspects was initiated by Suriname’s military court. According to many observers, this murder trial actually constituted the main motivation for Bouterse to run for president in 2010, anticipating that the presidential office would bring him legal protection and the power to influence the judicial process. Since his election to power in 2010, Bouterse’s NDP has repeatedly attempted to frustrate or bring a halt to the murder trial, most prominently by the adoption of an amnesty law in 2012 and an instruction to the public prosecutor to stop the prosecution in the interest of state security in 2016. Both challenges were dismissed by the military court, which considered these as illegitimate interventions in an ongoing legal process.

Concomitantly to its attempts to undermine the December Murders process, the ruling NDP has in various ways endeavored to weaken the position of Suriname’s judiciary as well as other (semi-) public institutions. High-ranking politicians within the party have argued that unelected judges should not have such wide-ranging powers, and that more mechanisms to control the judiciary should be embedded in the constitution. Moreover, the Surinamese judiciary suffers from a severe lack of government funding, and Bouterse has so far refused to appoint a new President to Suriname’s High Court of Justice. The administration has also sought to challenge the position of the Surinamese media, most recently by the foundation of a well-funded National Information Institute (NII), which officially communicates government information to the public, but largely functions as a propaganda machine that allows politicians to ignore other media outlets. And while corruption has always been a problem in Surinamese politics, under this administration numerous corruption scandals have unfolded and have gone by unpunished. The government’s connections to transnational criminal organizations and drug trafficking networks have in fact led some observers to consider the country as a “criminalized state” in which such groups use the international sovereignty of Suriname as a cover for their criminal activities.

In short, therefore, while Bouterse’s current administration operates under the veneer of a nominally democratic system, its ruling style has been decidedly authoritarian in character, and in several ways disturbingly comparable to the military regime he spearheaded in the 1980s.

Haiti – A politically successful first year for President Jovenel Moise

February 7th marked the first anniversary of the inauguration of President Jovenel Moise. During his first year in office, President Moise has accomplished three important things: he has been able to keep in check the legislators of his party, eclipsed his Prime Minister and his Ministers, and vanquished the opposition. Due in large part to these accomplishments, Moise has obtained some political space to maneuver in a social and economic context that is still dire.

The cooptation of legislators and political parties

Legislators in Haiti are well known for their lack of party discipline. In a context of extremely weak political parties, Haitian legislators typically act as lone wolves, whose main preoccupations are naturally to be re-elected and, in many cases, to get rich through generous funding for their pet projects obtained from Ministers (and for which they don’t need to show any proof of expenses). In this sense, many political crises in Haiti generally begin in the legislative branch, with unhappy politicians who were unable to secure substantial economic “help” from the government.

Jovel Moise got around this source of instability from rebel legislators by co opting them with a massive increase in the allocation for both chambers in the last budget (see our previous post on Haiti). Despite public demonstrations promoted by parties and politicians with no (or almost no) representation in parliament, the majority of legislators backed the executive. After several weeks of protests against the budget, it became clear to the demonstrators and their instigators that they could not rally the public against the government.

A few months later, beginning in December last year, Jovenel Moise completed his plan to buy peace of mind by deciding to allocate a subvention for 58 political parties that have representatives in the legislature and local levels of power. Over 12 months, 572 million gourdes (65 gourdes for 1US$) will be distributed among these political parties.

The disbursement of the funds has created a political rift. Fanmi Lavas and Pitit Dessalines, the most fervent critics of the President and the principal promoters of demonstrations against him, have denounced the corrupt intent of the subvention. The vast majority of parties have accepted the funds. Other parties have been torn apart over discussions about who should control the funds and how to use them.

The disappearance of the government

The virtual disappearance of the government has been another aspect that has marked the presidency of Jovenel Moise. Despite the constitutional text that indicates that the Prime Minister is the head of the government and that he governs with his respective Ministers, during this first year in office the President has been in the forefront of the day-to-day activity of governing. The most visible programs of the government have been carried out by the President. Plans to bring electricity, roads, schools and health services to remote communities have not been presented as an action of the government, but as the exclusive effort of the President.

By effectively taking on the role of the Prime Minister and the cabinet, the president has been able to maintain his presence in the press, visiting communities and making promises to change their economic and social situation. The multiple visits to many places in the country have given the public the sense that the president is constantly working to improve their situation.

In contrast to the omnipresence of the President, there is the complete absence of the government. Very few people are aware of the action of the Primer Minister and his cabinet, besides the fact of them accompanying the president. In this sense, contrary to what one would expect from a government in a semi presidential context and the fact that many members of the cabinet do not come from the President’s PHTK party, Jovenel Moise has been able to eclipse the government.

The division of the opposition

During his first year, opposition to Jovenel Moise has been weak and divided. At first, stunned by their unexpected lost in the first round of the presidential election, the president enjoyed relative peace during his first six months in power.

Then, the opposition intended to rally demonstrators against the government. As we have seen, the results were, at best, mixed. Even though they were able to sustain the mobilization for a few weeks around the budget and the minimum wage, the movement has been relatively short lived. Far away from the multitudinous demonstrations in 2015 and 2016, where Fanmi Lavas and Pitit Dessalines and other opposition parties joined forces to oust Michel Martelly from power, they have not been able to unite around the aim of delegitimising Moise.

Jovenel Moise has skilfully managed to weaken the opposition. As we have seen, his decision both to finance the activity of political parties and to give more resources to legislators have contributed to the relative peace he has enjoyed in his first year in office. In this sense, the discussion is no longer about the legitimacy of his presidency. The next debate will be about the extent he has succeeded in actually improving the lives of the Haitian people.

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.

Fernando Meireles – Latin American presidents and their oversized government coalitions

This is a guest post by Fernando Meireles, Ph.D candidate in Political Science at Federal University of Minas Gerais (Brazil). E-mail: fmeireles@ufmg.br

In many countries, presidents have a difficult time governing because their parties lack a legislative majority. In fact, because of the combination of separate elections for executive and legislative branches with multiparty systems, this situation is far from uncommon: during the last two decades in all 18 Latin American countries with presidential systems, only 26% of the time has the president’s party had a majority in the lower house. Due to this constraint, as a vast amount of research now highlights, minority presidents usually form multiparty government coalitions by including other parties in their cabinets. Again, only four Latin American presidential countries in the last twenty years were not governed by a multiparty coalition at some point since the 1980s.

However, the need to craft a legislative majority alone does not explain why presidents frequently include more parties in their governments than necessary to obtain a minimum winning coalition – forming what I call an oversized government coalition. The distribution of this type of coalition in Latin America is shown in the graph below. As can be seen, it is not a rare phenomenon.

If government coalitions are costly to maintain, as presidents have to keep tabs on their coalition partners to ensure they are not exploiting their portfolios to their own advantage – not to mention the fact that by splitting spoils and resources between coalition partners, the president’s own party is worse off – then why are these oversized coalitions prevalent in some Latin American countries?

In a recent article in Brazilian Political Science Review, I tackled this puzzle by analyzing the emergence of oversized government coalitions in all 18 presidential countries in Latin America[1], followed by a case study focusing on Brazil, spanning from 1979 to 2012. To this end, I gathered data on cabinet composition[2] from several sources to calculate the size of each government coalition in the sample: if a coalition had at least one party that could be removed without hampering the majority status of the government in the lower house in a given year, I classified it as an oversized coalition.

Specifically, I examined three main factors that, according to previous research, should incentivize presidents to include more parties in their coalitions than necessary to ensure majority support: 1) the motivation party leaders have to maximize votes, which would make joining the government attractive to opposition parties (vote-seeking); 2) the motivation presidents have to avoid coalition defections to implement their policy agendas (policy-seeking); and 3) the institutional context, considering the effects of bicameralism, qualified majority rules, and party system format on government coalition size.

The results support some of the hypothesis suggested by the literature. First, presidents are more prone to form oversized coalitions at the beginning of their terms, which shows that the proximity to the election affects Latin American presidents’ decision to form, and opposition parties to accept being part of, large coalitions – as others studies argue, this is mainly due to parties defecting from a coalition to present themselves as opposition when elections are approaching. Second, party fragmentation also has a positive effect on the emergence of oversized coalitions, consistent with the hypothesis that presidents might include additional parties in their coalitions anticipating legislative defections. Yet on the other hand, presidential approval, party discipline, and ideological polarization do not have the same positive effects on the probability of an oversized coalition being formed.

The factor that has the most impact on the occurrence of oversized coalitions, however, is the legislative powers of the president. As the literature points out, legislative decrees and urgency bills could be used by skilled presidents to coordinate their coalitions, facilitating horizontal bargaining between coalition partners. The comparative results show that this is the case in Latin America: the difference in the predicted probability of a president with maximum legislative powers in the sample forming an oversized coalition and another with minimum powers is about 32 percent points.

By exploring the Brazilian case in more depth, I also found that bicameralism dynamics and qualified majority rules impact the emergence of oversized coalitions. With two chambers elected through different electoral rules, parties in Brazil are often unable to secure the same seat share in both houses; to make things worse for presidents, party switching is still widespread in the country. In this context, as my results uncovered, differences in the number of seats controlled by the government in the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate positively affect the emergence of oversized coalitions. Finally, as some bills require supermajorities to be approved, such as constitutional amendments, reformist presidents also tend to form and maintain larger coalitions: the maximum value in this variable predicts increases by up to 10 percentage points on the probability of an oversized coalition being formed.

Taken together, these results show a more nuanced picture of why and how presidents form multiparty government coalitions in Latin America: often, obtaining a legislative majority is not enough to implement their legislative agendas, and so they might resort to a complementary strategy: to form larger coalitions. And presidents with greater legislative power, at the beginning of their terms or facing fragmented party systems, are in the best position to pursue such a strategy. In this way, both electoral and programmatic factors, as well as the institutional context, become key to understand variations in the size and the composition of government coalitions in presidential countries.

Notes

[1] These countries are Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Dominican Republic, Uruguay, and Venezuela.

[2] The criteria employed to identify a government coalition is the party affiliation of the ministers of the principal ministerial portfolios in each country – taking into account that ministers are not always recruited due to their connections or their congressional influence, and that in some cases they are not recognized by their parties as legitimate representatives of the same.

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.

Suriname – Defying the President, Suriname’s Military Court Decides to Continue Murder Trial Against Bouterse

Last Monday (30 January), Suriname’s military court – the Krijgsraad – decided to continue with the murder trial against President Bouterse. The President of Suriname faces criminal charges for his involvement in the 1982 ‘December murders’, as part of which fifteen political opponents of his military regime were killed in Fort Zeelandia, Bouterse’s headquarters. The trial against Bouterse, who between 1980 and 1988 ruled Suriname as a military dictator, started already in 2007. However, in the 2010 elections Bouterse and his NDP party claimed a resounding victory at the polls, after which the former dictator was once again installed as Suriname’s president. Since then, there has been a continuous tug of war between the president and the courts. Bouterse’s party first modified the amnesty law in an attempt to adjourn the trial, but the court considered this to be illegitimate interference in an ongoing process. Subsequently, Bouterse instructed the public prosecutor to halt the process in the interest of state security. After first postponing the trial, judge Cynthia Valstein-Montnor this week decided to continue with the trial, thereby not complying with the public prosecutor’s request. The judge summoned the prosecutor to start his address and propose a punishment straightaway, but his request for adjournment until Thursday 9 February was approved.

The relatives of the victims of 1982 are relieved about the court’s decision, and are optimistic about the likelihood that Bouterse will be convicted. However, many people in Suriname fear that the president will not quietly undergo the court’s verdict, and the lawyer of the victims’ families warned that he might now declare a state of emergency in order to sideline the military court. While praising the perseverance of the Krijgsraad and cherishing the court’s decision as a victory for the rule of law in Suriname, the lawyer expressed deep worries about the tensions surrounding the process and the political pressure on the judiciary, which was accused of compromising state security and conspiring with the president’s foreign enemies. Bouterse’s lawyer, on the other hand, argued that nobody in Suriname cares about these murders anymore, since they occurred thirty-five years ago. He claimed that a continuation of the trial would needlessly upset Suriname’s society and undermine the country’s fragile stability, and emphasized that the government’s order to adjourn the trial was fully in line with the Surinamese constitution, and should therefore be respected by the court.

The new developments in the murder trial against Bouterse cannot be regarded in isolation from broader developments in Surinamese society. While the country’s economic prospects appeared to be excellent not more than five years ago, at present Suriname faces a severe economic crisis, and according to the IMF the country’s economy contracted by a staggering 9 per cent in 2016. This economic downturn unquestionably damages Bouterse’s popularity: while the president enjoyed widespread support when he was voted into office in 2010, the deep recession has made him increasingly unpopular, especially because most of the NDP’s lavish campaign promises remain unfulfilled. In turn, while it may be accurate that most younger people do not care much about the 1982 murders, their increasing dissatisfaction with the president now appears to reinforce popular support for the murder trial.

Haiti – The vindication of Michel Martelly

On November 20 Haiti held presidential and parliamentary elections. The preliminary results indicate that the candidate of the PHTK party, Jovenel Moise, has won enough votes to secure the presidency in the first round of the elections. The party has also won, or is in good position to control, the majority of the senate and a healthy plurality of deputies. These results represent a very important departure from the situation a few months ago.

On February 7 Michel Joseph Martelly was forced to leave power after a constellation of opponents, through massive demonstrations on the streets, successfully discredited the electoral results that placed the now winner, Jovenel Moise, in ballotage. On that occasion Moise won a mere 33% of the votes ahead of Jude Célestin, with 25% percent. At that time, the opposition took power. Jocelerme Privert, a senator from the opposition, was sworn in as interim president. Ten months later, what appeared to be an opportunity for the opposition to oust the Martelly regime has become the most important vindication of the ex-president and his party.

What went wrong for the opposition? How was Jovenel Moise finally able to win? This post analyzes briefly the political situation that led to the triumph of the Pro-Martelly camp. Two elements stands out in explaining the results: the fragmentation of the opposition and the massive investment of the economic elites in Jovenel Moise. 

The designation of Privert to the interim Presidency and his subsequent decision not to honor the deal to give the office of the Prime Minister to an ally of the Martelly Camp, had a double effect on the political actors. On the one hand, the PHTK party and its allies quickly coalesced around the candidacy of Jovenel Moise. The amount of money they invested in the elections is a good indicator of their commitment. We do not have exact information about the level of spending, but all observers recognize that the PHTK heavily outspent all of their opponents. The endless resources available were in full display during the weeks after the powerful category 4 storm that ripped through Haiti on October 4 and forced the cancellation of the election previously set for October 20. All of the candidates used the emergency to manipulate the vote from the most affected regions by handing out goods to them. Yet Jovenel Moise was the one that spent most heavily. Evidence shows that his investment in the Departments most affected by the storm was rewardedAlthough Moise dominated in all regions, he especially outperformed his rivals in these regions. According to the preliminary results, outside the Northern regions where the candidate has been always very strong, he performed relatively well in the South, the Nippes and Grand Anse, the regions devastated by the storm.

As regards the opponents of Jovenel Moise, the popular front they created and that successfuly forced the departure of Martelly did not endure in the face of the real possibility that they might win the elections. With Martelly ousted and delegitimized, they entirely underestimated his protégé. Instead of using the new situation to campaign, like Moise was doing all through the transition period, they spent their time trying to influence and gain control over the new government. In the end, Jovenel Moise was able to use successfully all the resources that the economic elites were putting at his disposition. These facts explain in some measure the electoral results.

But can we expect a period of political stability after the elections? The answer, again, is not a definitive yes. It will depend on the ability of the new president to navigate the complicated political, economic and social situation. On one hand, it is worth pointing out that only 21% of the electorate went to the poll. On the other, the most important candidates are already protesting the results, both on the streets and before the Electoral Council (CEP). Three out of the 9 members of the CEP did not sign the preliminary results. The evolution of the situation in the next days will tell us what kind of 2017 Haiti will face politically.