Category Archives: Caribbean

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.

Suriname – President Bouterse Keeps Dodging Murder Trial

On 5 August 2016, Suriname’s military court decided to once more postpone the murder trial of the country’s ruling president, Dési Bouterse, who is accused of participating in the killings of fifteen political opponents more than thirty years ago. These so-called ‘December murders’ (Dutch: Decembermoorden) occurred on the night of 8 December 1982, at the height of Suriname’s military regime, which was headed by Bouterse. In 2000, one month before the crime became too old to prosecute, a legal investigation was started by the Surinamese judiciary, which in 2007 resulted in a criminal proceeding against Bouterse. The elections of 2010 however produced a resounding victory for the former military ruler, who in that year was inaugurated as Suriname’s next president. In 2012, shortly before the conclusion of the criminal case, the Surinamese Parliament – headed by Bouterse’s National Democratic Party (NDP) – modified the country’s amnesty law, as a result of which the murder trial was adjourned. Suriname’s military court (the krijgsraad) reopened the proceedings in June 2016, considering that the new amnesty law illegitimately intervened in an ongoing trial, after which Bouterse instructed the public prosecutor’s office to halt the prosecution in the interest of state security. In reaction, the judge decided to once more postpone the murder trial until November of this year.

Suriname is a former Dutch colony which became a sovereign state in 1975. In the first five years after the attainment of independence, the country was ruled by a coalition of political parties, reflecting the multi-ethnic composition of the Surinamese population. Taking advantage of growing disenchantment stemming from the dire economic situation, in 1980 Sergeant Bouterse and fifteen other military officials led a successful coup d’état, known as the Sergeants’ Coup. In subsequent years, the country was ruled as a military dictatorship headed by Bouterse, and its ties with The Netherlands were severed. In addition to the ‘December murders’, Bouterse’s troops committed various war crimes as part of the Surinamese Interior War, among which the murder of forty innocent civilians in the village of Moiwana. In the late 1980s, multi-party democracy was reinstated in Suriname, and Bouterse established the NDP with the goal of remaining in power by democratic means. In the Netherlands, Bouterse was sentenced in absentia to eleven years in prison for his involvement in the transport of 474 kilos of cocaine, and Interpol issued an international arrest warrant against the former dictator.

While Bouterse’s NDP remained in the opposition for most of the 1990s and 2000s, the 2010 elections were won decisively by a political coalition (the Megacombinatie) spearheaded by the NDP. The subsequent installment of Bouterse as President led to renewed tensions with The Netherlands and the termination of Dutch development aid to Suriname, but as head of state, Bouterse obtained diplomatic immunity and Interpol’s arrest warrant was dropped. While Bouterse publicly accepted responsibility for the 1982 killings, he has argued that the country must move past its history, and has explained the Dutch actions against him as attempts of the former colonial power to keep controlling Suriname. Whereas Bouterse enjoyed great popular support at the start of his presidency – especially among the youth, who have little recollection of the events of the 1980s – the persistent economic malaise in Suriname has led to a sharp decrease in his popularity. In turn, this might have an effect on the President’s attempts to obstruct his own trial: while supporters of Bouterse continue to call for a complete cessation of the proceedings, the size of this group has been decreasing in recent months.

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.

Wouter Veenendaal – Microstate Foreign Policy: How Much Leeway for Presidents?

This is a guest post by Wouter Veenendaal of the Koninklijk Instituut voor Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde / Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies (KITLV)

On 18 December 2015, James Alix Michel was reelected as President of Seychelles, defeating his opponent by a razor-thin margin of 0,30 per cent, or 193 votes. Michel’s election victory ensured that the Parti Lepep (People’s Party), which had been in office since its coup d’état of 1977, will remain in power in the archipelago. While multiparty democracy was reinstated in Seychelles in the early 1990s, putting an end to the Marxist single-party regime, the ruling party has won all subsequent elections. It has now been in power for almost 40 years.

Michel’s election victory was contested by the opposition, which cried foul over alleged irregularities. Commonwealth observers, however, noted that the fundamental rights of candidates, political parties, and the electorate had been respected. Regardless of whether the recent Seychellois election was fair or not, the outcome means that no major political changes can be expected in the island archipelago. This is especially true for foreign policy, which, as in other small island states, appears to be largely (pre-) determined by the country’s weakness and relative insignificance within the international system.

As actors in international relations, small states are typically considered to be vulnerable and dependent. Their survival rests on the benevolence of larger states, as a result of which small countries do not have the capacity to develop a foreign policy of their own; they are regarded as mere ‘objects’ in world politics. The extent to which individual leaders in small states can influence the foreign policies of their countries is thus considered to be inherently limited. The case of Seychelles appears to support this view: the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 necessitated a drastic reorientation towards the West, which was entirely motivated by a change in the international system.

In fact, however, the smallest countries in the world (so-called microstates) often act in remarkable and rather exceptional ways in global politics. Together, Caribbean and Pacific island nations for instance constitute the bulk of states that recognize the international sovereignty of Taiwan, and the Pacific microstates of Nauru, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu were among the first and only countries to extend diplomatic recognition to the Caucasian breakaway republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Out of the nine states that in 2012 opposed Palestine’s bid to become a United Nations observer state, five were Pacific small island states. How can these foreign policy choices be explained? The answer is: money.

The examples above highlight that microstates often make strategic use of their sovereignty, negotiating their political support in exchange for material gains. In return for diplomatic recognition, Taiwan, for example, develops ICT facilities, provides police cars, or constructs new government buildings in various small island states. As a token for its continuing support for the People’s Republic, in 2008 China, on the other hand, constructed a new parliament building for Seychelles, and recently donated two aircraft to the archipelago. And in exchange for Nauru’s diplomatic recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the Russian government bestowed this Pacific island nation with US $31 million in hard cash.

Whereas Seychelles has been steadfast in its support for Beijing, other microstates have occasionally shifted their diplomatic recognition. The Caribbean island nation of St. Lucia, for example, recognized Taiwan between 1984 and 1997, but then withdrew its recognition and established relations with China instead. In 2005, the St. Lucian government decided to reestablish its diplomatic ties with Taiwan. Microstates like St. Lucia thus take part in the so-called two-China game, in which they essentially award their diplomatic support to the highest bidder. Instead of having a passive and submissive role in international politics, these countries therefore actively and successfully make gains by playing off two large powers against each other. The examples also demonstrate that small states often do have a range of foreign policy options to choose from, which supposedly gives more leeway to presidents and political leaders in crafting the foreign policies of their countries.

Another example is provided by the Micronesian island nation of Palau, which became independent from the United States in 1994. A large share of the public finances of Palau is derived from its Compact of Free Association with the United States, and it is hardly a surprise that Palau’s voting behavior in the United Nations General Assembly overlaps by over 97% with that of the US. In addition, in 2009 the Palauan President Johnson Toribiong came to the aid of Washington by agreeing to provide shelter to 19 Uyghurs who had been released from the Guantánamo Bay detention center, and under US law could not be returned to China. In exchange for financial aid, Palau, therefore, willingly plays the role of staunch US ally in the international system.

In addition to the United States, Palau maintains close ties with Taiwan (which provided crucial disaster relief after a typhoon had hit the island) and Japan (which constructed the Japan-Palau friendship bridge between Palau’s two largest islands). Although Palau, in exchange for economic assistance, always supported Japan’s position on whale hunting in international fora, in 2012 President Toribiong suddenly dropped this support, arguing that whaling is incompatible with Palau’s support for nature conservation. In a similar fashion, newly elected Palauan President Remengesau recently made some cautious statements about potential cooperation with China, raising suspicions in Taiwan and the US. These examples demonstrate that political leaders of even the smallest states can and do strategically influence or pressure larger countries.

In an upcoming article in Foreign Policy Analysis, I argue that the international relations between microstates and large powers can, in many ways, be seen as a patron-client linkage, in which political support is exchanged for material gains. Just like clientelism in a domestic context, from a normative perspective such relations can be denounced as opportunistic, immoral, or even corrupt. On the other hand, for microstates these relations offer unique opportunities to make the most of their sovereignty, and to independently position themselves in international affairs. While presidents of small island nations still only have a very limited range of foreign policy options, the presence of multiple potential patron states – and their growing number since the end of the Cold War – does give political leaders of microstates some say about their countries’ foreign relations.

Dr. Wouter Veenendaal is a researcher at the Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies in Leiden, The Netherlands. His research focuses on politics, democracy, and governance in small states, and he is presently part of a larger academic project that investigates non-sovereign territories in the Caribbean and elsewhere.

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.

Haiti – Presidential election report

Uncertainty is generally a good thing for a democratic contest. Most of the time an election whose outcome is known in advance is a sign of a vice more than a virtue. But, when uncertainty is the result of the weaknesses of the actors involved in the contest, things are turned upside down: a virtue can become a vice and, vice versa, a vice turns into a virtue. This is exactly the case with Haiti at this time.

First, no one could say for sure if President Martelly would be around by the time his successor was chosen. Second, the composition of Electoral Council (CEP, in French) in charge of the election was never and still is not a settled matter. Third there are so many weak candidates and parties in the contest that the only certainty is that anything can happen. The likely victor is a matter of pure hazard. Everything depends on the resources that can be mustered to convince the other actors that he is the least bad choice.

With this calculus in mind, on October 25 Haitians went to the polls for the second time this year. Participation was higher this time than previously. Around 25% of registered voters participated in the contest, up from 18% on August 9. But more than 50% of the 2 million voters where delegated by the parties. Nearly a million citizens cast their ballots in a place different from their original polling station.

Two weeks after the elections, on November 5, the CEP announced the results. They were largely favorable to the candidates and parties sympathetic to the current administration. Jovenel Moise, the presidential candidate from the PHTK, the party of President Martelly, won a plurality of the vote (32.81%). In second position came Jude Célestin, from the LAPEH party, with 25.27% of the votes. Moise Jean Charles, from the Pitit Deslin party and Maryse Narcisse of Fanmi Lavalas came in third and fourth with 14.27% and 7.05% of the votes respectively. According to the electoral law the top two candidates qualify for the run-off in December 27. The other 50 candidates won about 1% of the vote each.

The results of the parliamentary elections have been also favorable to the party of the President. The PHTK will control a plurality of the vote in the Lower Chamber. It is expected to command an absolute majority of the deputies after alliances with parties in the orbit of the executive. No party will have absolute control of the Senate. But, again, parties associated with the President will have a majority of the seats.

These are impressive results for a party that was created only 3 years ago, with new politicians that never participated in any political activity before. The opposition has denounced the verdict of the CEP. They have been said that the election was rigged in advance to favor the President and his allies. Most of the allegations accused the representatives of PHTK of voting many times in different polling stations. So far, the CEP has annulled the results of about 3% of the polling stations for fraudulent procedures.

Since the publication of the results thousands of demonstrators have been protesting in the streets of the most important cities. At least one demonstrator has been killed by the police and several partisans of the Pitit Desalt party have been jailed. In some respects, the current situation is merely reproducing what has been the tradition in electoral contests in Haiti. Since 2001 results have been contested in the streets. Each time the opposition parties have been able to change the results.

After the parliamentary elections in 2001 the opposition took to the streets to protest against the results. Their demonstrations culminated 3 years later with French and US military interventions and the exile of President Aristide. In 2006 President Préval used the streets to force the CEP to change the result. He was successful and won the election at the first round. In 2011, the current President used the same tactic. He was moved from the third to the second position and was eventually elected in the run-off contest.

This is where the calculus of uncertainty comes in. In the last three presidential elections politicians have learned that the best way to guarantee their success is to wage a bloody battle before the contest in order to weaken their opponents. Because every actor is playing the same game, at the end of the day everyone is effectively weakened. At this point the most important thing is not the incompetency of the CEP, the fraud, real or only alleged, or the popularity of the opponents but the capacity to impose a certain perception. Then the mobilization can begin.

At first, the International Community (US, OAS, UN, French of Haiti) stands by the official results. But, when the situation becomes too chaotic, they usually change their position. No one can afford a power vacuum. That could put thousands of refugees on the road (actually at sea) which could affect the entire region. When the international community begins to analyze the political situation in these terms, the opposition has succeeded. In the last three elections it has been able to change to his favor the situation.

This is the calculus behind the post-electoral protests taking place at this moment in Haiti. This is not to say that the result of the elections did not respect the decision of the voters or that the CEP was not clean and competent in the way it handled the electoral process. It is just to highlight the strategies and tactics of the actors at elections in Haiti. Everything will depend, in the coming weeks and months, on the capacity of the opposition to change, through its mobilization, the perception of certain key international actors.

Roody Reserve

Roody Reserve – Haiti and the elections that do not produce legitimacy

This is a guest post by Roody Reserve from the Universidad Centroamericana José Simeón Cañas (UCA, El Salvador).

Roody Reserve

On August 9, 2015, parliamentary elections were held in Haiti. These elections constitute the first stage of a series of electoral events that are scheduled to take place this year in the country. On October 25 Haitians will go back again to the polls, this time to complete the runoff of the previous legislative elections, vote for a president and local representatives. Finally, December 27 is set off for an eventual presidential runoff, in case none of the contenders get elected in the first round. This post analyses the political and institutional context in which the electoral contest is taking place. The first section briefly discusses some administrative and political constraints that the institution responsible for organizing the elections (CEP, in French) is facing. The second section discusses the electoral results. The last section concludes with a brief reflection about the meaning of this year’s electoral cycle, and its implications for the future of the country.

A complicated political and administrative context

At the end of this year, when the last words have been said about this electoral cycle, Haitians will have elected, in direct and universal suffrage, more than 6,000 political representatives. The President of the Republic, 119 deputies, 20 senators, 140 Community Councils (each council has three members), 570 Associations of Communal Sections (with three members each), 570 Assemblies of Communal Sections (whose number of members depends on the size of the population of the Communal Section) and Delegates of the 140 cities (also with variable number of representative), are set to be elected.

Technical and political problems have marked the first electoral event. On the technical side, the process is conditioned by the excessive number of candidates. A total of 128 political parties, 55 candidates for the Presidency, 232 for the Senate and 1,621 to the Lower House, have registered to compete in the elections. Notwithstanding the fact that any institution would face a fair amount of difficulties to manage the logistics of an electoral operation with so many candidates, the fact that the Provisional Electoral Commission (CEP) had very little time to organize the electoral event made its task more difficult. Its nine members were appointed only six months before the August 9th election. Consequently, they did not have enough time to become familiar with their function and put in place sufficient electoral machinery. The country still lacks a permanent electoral body. For each election a provisional electoral body is generally established a few months before the events. Thus, there is little organizational memory and, this means that more often than not, improvisation dominates administrative decisions.

Politically, this electoral process is one of the most contested in recent history. According to the initial electoral calendar elections should have been held in 2012 to replace a third of the Senate; in 2014 to renew the House and local representatives; and, this year to elect a new President and another one third of the Upper Chamber. The failure to respect the electoral calendar means that the country is currently without a Lower House, the Senate is lacking two-thirds of its members (20) and all local representatives have been appointed by the Executive. This makes the President, with the 10 senators in situ, the only political authorities with popular legitimacy granted in the polls.

Haiti is currently experiencing a profound institutional and political crisis. This CEP was appointed after at least three failed attempts to form an Electoral Council by the current president. This was both because of scandals involving some members and because of political mobilization in the street by the opposition, President Martelly finally had to ask for the resignation of the previous electoral council members he appointed. Much of the opposition until recently even formally demanded the president’s resignation as a precondition for participating in the elections.

Preliminary electoral results

After several administrative problems, cases of violence during the elections, allegations of widespread fraud, the CEP announced on August 20 the electoral results. Participation was very low, even by Haitian standards. Only 18% of registered voters went to the polls. In the West Department, which counts near 40% of the voters, turnout did not even reach 10%. There is no space in this text to address all the aspects that may have influenced this low level of participation, but widespread political violence before and during the electoral event, and little enthusiasm for the candidates to the presidency are worth pointing out. Many civil society organizations have identified the fear of violence as the main reason that explains the low level of participation. The CEP has even disqualified 14 parliamentary candidates from participating in the runoff elections, because of their involvement in violence during the electoral event. It is also important to highlight the fact that the presidential candidates have not been able to mobilize the electorate. A lack of charisma on their part combined with a sort of fatigue from the recurrent political crises help to explain this lack of enthusiasm from the electors.

The results also indicate that nine candidates to the Lower Chamber obtained more than 50% of the votes and, are elected in the first round. Four of them belong to the party of the current President (PHTK). For the second round, to be held concurrently on October 25 with the first round of presidential and local elections, most candidates are from the party of the President. It is very striking that INITE, the party of ex-President Preval, which won the last legislative elections in 2010, and Fanmi Lavalas, the party of former President Aristide, did not have much to say in these elections. Very few of their candidates will make it to the runoff of the legislative elections. The presidential candidate of INITE was disqualified by the CEP for lack of“decharge”(a document that certificates he managed properly public funds when he was a public servant) and the candidate of the party of Fanmi Lavalas, Marise Narcysse, does not have much standing in the polls. This marks surely a dramatic change from recent political battle in Haiti. This means that in some respect the politicians that dominated the former political polarization in Haiti have not been able to influence substantially this electoral event.


The electoral process in which Haiti is immersed this year represents a good opportunity to provide popular legitimacy to political representatives. However, the conditions under which it is being conducted threatens to leave the political crisis that preceded the elections intact. The CEP does not have the full support of the political actors. The opposition never misses an opportunity to denounce what they consider a fraudulent election. While allegations of fraud in favor of the ruling party have not been proven, the serious administrative shortcomings the CEP are not helping to increase its much needed popular legitimacy.

It is striking that the CEP has more international support than within the country. The Organization of American States, the European Union and the Embassy of the United States, which observed the elections, observed that the difficulties experienced during Election Day did not disqualify the electoral process as a whole. However, this is not the view of the politicians that are participating in the process.

In short, if this current trend of contestation of the electoral process lasts, it is possible that the elections will not produce politically legitimate elected representatives. That would be another false departure that could set the context for another five years of political crisis, as was the case with the previous presidential election.

Roody Reserve is the Director of the Master Programme in Political Science, at the Universidad Centroamericana José Simeón Cañas (UCA, El Salvador). His research interest cover the comparative poltics of Central America, State Capacity, President and Legislative relations, Parties and Party Systems in Haiti and Central America

Haiti – In search of Senate elections

The political system in Haiti is in a constant state of flux. Since the onset of some form of democracy in 1987, there have been repeated collapses, transitions, and occasionally some governance. In part, this is due to the constitution. The president has relatively few powers and requires a majority in parliament to govern. Parliament is split between two chambers. They have basically equal powers. Both have to approve the government and both can bring it down. The Senate also sits in permanent session, meaning that the government is permanently looking over its shoulder. While the constitution is poorly designed, the earthquake in January 2010 was so devastating that existing political and economic problems were exacerbated making all aspects of governance more difficult.

President Michel Martelly took office in May 2011. He has struggled to win majority support in either house, and has faced particular difficulty in the Senate. Elections to the Chamber of Deputies were held with the presidential election in November 2010/March 2011. They are due to be held at the same time as the next presidential election. However, elections to the Senate are overdue. If they were to be held and if the president could win a majority there, then he would be much better placed to pass legislation. However, holding elections to the Senate is causing problems.

The Senate comprises 30 Senators. Full elections were held in 2006. Since then, there have been a number of constitutional amendments that have changed the duration of their mandate. However, the current situation is that Senators serve for six years with a partial renewal of the seats every two years, with 10 seats being elected each time on a rolling US-style basis. There were partial elections in 2009. There were also partial elections in 2010/2011. There were due to be partial elections at the end of 2011. However, they were delayed because of problems with establishing an acceptable, independent and permanent electoral commission. This means that since 2012, there have been only 20 Senators in office. The next round of partial elections was scheduled for later this year when they were due to be held with the local elections, but there is no guarantee that they will go ahead. This opens up the possibility of there being only 10 Senators left if elections do not take place.

The delay in holding elections has partly been caused by a delay in setting up a new and permanent electoral commission. In April 2013 a so-called Collège Transitoire du Conseil Électoral Permanent (CTCEP) was established. This was an interim electoral commission. It was the result of a lot of bargaining between the executive and the legislature. However, it meant that in theory there was now an institutional mechanism for organising elections. In December an electoral law was passed by both chambers of parliament and was promulgated by the president. In January of this year the president of the interim commission announced that elections to the Senate could be held within six months, begging the question of whether this would be just for the 10 vacant seats or for those seats and for the 10 seats that are due to expire at the end of this year as well. However, faced with these difficulties and also a cause of them, various Senators have been pressing for the length of their mandate to be extended. More than that, some Senators, notably those associated with the former President Aristide and his Fanmi Lavalas group, have threatened violence if their terms are not extended. So, the absence of elections is more than just the inability of political groups to agree on the composition of an electoral commission. It is also the result of some groups not wanting an election to be held at all.

To help resolve the situation, at the end of January at the suggestion of the churches there was a two-week-long period of ‘national dialogue’. This brought together representatives of the executive, legislature, political parties and civil society, though not all representatives always attended, notably the Fanmi Lavalas.

In the end, an agreement was reached. There are signs that it would have led to a new electoral commission with the promise of new elections as well as a change of government but not necessarily the PM, who is an ally of the President Martelly. However, the agreement was still-born. President Martelly refused to name 10 members of the Cour Supérieure des Comptes et du Contentieux Administratif (CSCCA) as required by the deal. Therefore, the president of the Senate, Simon Dieuseul Desras, who is an opponent of President Martelly, refused to sign the agreement. The agreement has now been delayed ‘sine die’.

However, maybe there is hope. President Martelly and the president of the Senate, Simon Dieuseul Desras, are both travelling to Rome to attend the investiture of Haiti’s first ever cardinal on Sunday. They are not travelling together, but there is the hope that they may meet on the margins of the visit and reach a deal that will end of the country’s many periods of transition.