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.

Conclusions

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

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