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.