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.

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