Haiti – The end of the transition

After a year of crisis and uncertainty, Jovenel Moise was sworn in as the 58th president of Haiti on February 7. The ceremony marks the end of the transition period that began on the same date last year with the departure of President Martelly. In a stunning reversal of fortunes, his party (the PHTK) went from being tossed out of power to now securing the control of the two branches of government: the Legislative (both chambers) and the Executive. Elections that were expected to mark the burial of the legacy of PHTK’s politicians turned out to be ones that vindicated the previous administration. In this post, we point out some obstacles that might lie ahead of the new government, despite the triumphal appearance of the last few days.

Despite having won at the first round of the election by a healthy margin (55.6% versus 19.5% for his nearest competitor) and which should give President Moise some much needed room in which to maneuver, certain structural weaknesses might prevent him from benefiting from his seeming popularity. The truth of the matter is that he has won by default, with little support of the elegible voters, with an opposition that is already questioning his legitimacy, and an accusation of money laundering pending in the judicial system.

Table I shows the level of participation in the last presidential election. On average, only 18% of citizens went to the polls. That average is lower in two key Departments, Ouest and Artibonite, where most voters are concentrated (54% of the total voters). These two regions are also known as the two most active areas for protests and political demonstrations. In fact, the mobilization against Martelly was mostly confined to Port-au-Prince, the capital and the most important city in the Ouest.

Table I. Participation in the elections of November 2016, by Department

Department # elegible citizens # of votes cast Turnout (%)
Ouest 2,407,133 361,496 15,01
Sud-Est 317,884 72,037 22,6
Nord 573,179 122,355 21,3
Nord-Est 230,734 53,051 23
Artibonite 760,153 129,831 17,07
Centre 392,791 81,425 20,7
Sud 444,955 82,043 18,4
Grande-Anse 241,974 54,916 22,6
Nord-Ouest 308,988 58,030 18,7
Nippes 193,659 47,655 24,6
Total 5,871,450 1,062,839 18,1

Jude Célestin, Moise Jean Charles, and Maryse Narcisse (who together won 39.6% of the votes) used the courts to challenge the electoral results. After the verification of the results, the Electoral Council (CEP) confirmed the election of Jovenel Moise. However, supporters of all three former candidates took to the street to contest the decision. In the end, they failed to generate widespread protests against the CEP’s decision. Nonetheless, they have declared the election of Moise illegitimate and have vowed to oppose his government by any means. So far, they have avoided any form of contact with the president elect (and since February 7 the president) and decided not to participate in his inauguration ceremony.

If recent history can serve as a blue print for what might come in the future, it is worth remembering that the allegations against the legitimacy of a president has been used in the past for waging permanent protests against the incumbent administration. In the case of President Aristide in 2004, these protests led lead to his premature departure. In other cases, chronic instability was the result.

As president elect, Jovene Moise has been forced to declare before an investigating judge that, as an entrepreneur, he might have commited the crime of money laundering. The accusations were floated during the electoral campaign in a report from the Unité Centrale de Renseignements Financiers (UCREF), which is responsible for investigating financial fraud in Haiti. Moise denied the accusations and his allies argue that they were orchestrated by the government to discredit their candidate. Independently of the veracity of the allegations, the fact is that the president has taken office and the judge has not yet completed the investigation. Whatever the outcome, there is no doubt that the accusations could come back to haunt the president. If the judge decides not to proceed any further, the opposition will denounce the role of the judicial system and if the decision is to indict the president, the next new political crisis will be on the horizon.

In a nutshell, the inauguration of Jovenel Moise as the 58th president of Haiti means that the transition is now complete. Power has changed hands peacefully and a president and legislators chosen in the polls are in charge of the country. In contrast to his predecessor, the new president can count on his party and allies to use their majority in both chambers to take swift actions to redress the economy and make important changes in the lives of the citizens. But, as we have seen in this post, many challenges lied ahead. The legitimacy won from the polls will not suffice to govern.

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