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.

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