February 7th marked the first anniversary of the inauguration of President Jovenel Moise. During his first year in office, President Moise has accomplished three important things: he has been able to keep in check the legislators of his party, eclipsed his Prime Minister and his Ministers, and vanquished the opposition. Due in large part to these accomplishments, Moise has obtained some political space to maneuver in a social and economic context that is still dire.
The cooptation of legislators and political parties
Legislators in Haiti are well known for their lack of party discipline. In a context of extremely weak political parties, Haitian legislators typically act as lone wolves, whose main preoccupations are naturally to be re-elected and, in many cases, to get rich through generous funding for their pet projects obtained from Ministers (and for which they don’t need to show any proof of expenses). In this sense, many political crises in Haiti generally begin in the legislative branch, with unhappy politicians who were unable to secure substantial economic “help” from the government.
Jovel Moise got around this source of instability from rebel legislators by co opting them with a massive increase in the allocation for both chambers in the last budget (see our previous post on Haiti). Despite public demonstrations promoted by parties and politicians with no (or almost no) representation in parliament, the majority of legislators backed the executive. After several weeks of protests against the budget, it became clear to the demonstrators and their instigators that they could not rally the public against the government.
A few months later, beginning in December last year, Jovenel Moise completed his plan to buy peace of mind by deciding to allocate a subvention for 58 political parties that have representatives in the legislature and local levels of power. Over 12 months, 572 million gourdes (65 gourdes for 1US$) will be distributed among these political parties.
The disbursement of the funds has created a political rift. Fanmi Lavas and Pitit Dessalines, the most fervent critics of the President and the principal promoters of demonstrations against him, have denounced the corrupt intent of the subvention. The vast majority of parties have accepted the funds. Other parties have been torn apart over discussions about who should control the funds and how to use them.
The disappearance of the government
The virtual disappearance of the government has been another aspect that has marked the presidency of Jovenel Moise. Despite the constitutional text that indicates that the Prime Minister is the head of the government and that he governs with his respective Ministers, during this first year in office the President has been in the forefront of the day-to-day activity of governing. The most visible programs of the government have been carried out by the President. Plans to bring electricity, roads, schools and health services to remote communities have not been presented as an action of the government, but as the exclusive effort of the President.
By effectively taking on the role of the Prime Minister and the cabinet, the president has been able to maintain his presence in the press, visiting communities and making promises to change their economic and social situation. The multiple visits to many places in the country have given the public the sense that the president is constantly working to improve their situation.
In contrast to the omnipresence of the President, there is the complete absence of the government. Very few people are aware of the action of the Primer Minister and his cabinet, besides the fact of them accompanying the president. In this sense, contrary to what one would expect from a government in a semi presidential context and the fact that many members of the cabinet do not come from the President’s PHTK party, Jovenel Moise has been able to eclipse the government.
The division of the opposition
During his first year, opposition to Jovenel Moise has been weak and divided. At first, stunned by their unexpected lost in the first round of the presidential election, the president enjoyed relative peace during his first six months in power.
Then, the opposition intended to rally demonstrators against the government. As we have seen, the results were, at best, mixed. Even though they were able to sustain the mobilization for a few weeks around the budget and the minimum wage, the movement has been relatively short lived. Far away from the multitudinous demonstrations in 2015 and 2016, where Fanmi Lavas and Pitit Dessalines and other opposition parties joined forces to oust Michel Martelly from power, they have not been able to unite around the aim of delegitimising Moise.
Jovenel Moise has skilfully managed to weaken the opposition. As we have seen, his decision both to finance the activity of political parties and to give more resources to legislators have contributed to the relative peace he has enjoyed in his first year in office. In this sense, the discussion is no longer about the legitimacy of his presidency. The next debate will be about the extent he has succeeded in actually improving the lives of the Haitian people.