Tag Archives: Caribbean

Roody Reserve – Haiti and the elections that do not produce legitimacy

This is a guest post by Roody Reserve from the Universidad Centroamericana José Simeón Cañas (UCA, El Salvador).

Roody Reserve

On August 9, 2015, parliamentary elections were held in Haiti. These elections constitute the first stage of a series of electoral events that are scheduled to take place this year in the country. On October 25 Haitians will go back again to the polls, this time to complete the runoff of the previous legislative elections, vote for a president and local representatives. Finally, December 27 is set off for an eventual presidential runoff, in case none of the contenders get elected in the first round. This post analyses the political and institutional context in which the electoral contest is taking place. The first section briefly discusses some administrative and political constraints that the institution responsible for organizing the elections (CEP, in French) is facing. The second section discusses the electoral results. The last section concludes with a brief reflection about the meaning of this year’s electoral cycle, and its implications for the future of the country.

A complicated political and administrative context

At the end of this year, when the last words have been said about this electoral cycle, Haitians will have elected, in direct and universal suffrage, more than 6,000 political representatives. The President of the Republic, 119 deputies, 20 senators, 140 Community Councils (each council has three members), 570 Associations of Communal Sections (with three members each), 570 Assemblies of Communal Sections (whose number of members depends on the size of the population of the Communal Section) and Delegates of the 140 cities (also with variable number of representative), are set to be elected.

Technical and political problems have marked the first electoral event. On the technical side, the process is conditioned by the excessive number of candidates. A total of 128 political parties, 55 candidates for the Presidency, 232 for the Senate and 1,621 to the Lower House, have registered to compete in the elections. Notwithstanding the fact that any institution would face a fair amount of difficulties to manage the logistics of an electoral operation with so many candidates, the fact that the Provisional Electoral Commission (CEP) had very little time to organize the electoral event made its task more difficult. Its nine members were appointed only six months before the August 9th election. Consequently, they did not have enough time to become familiar with their function and put in place sufficient electoral machinery. The country still lacks a permanent electoral body. For each election a provisional electoral body is generally established a few months before the events. Thus, there is little organizational memory and, this means that more often than not, improvisation dominates administrative decisions.

Politically, this electoral process is one of the most contested in recent history. According to the initial electoral calendar elections should have been held in 2012 to replace a third of the Senate; in 2014 to renew the House and local representatives; and, this year to elect a new President and another one third of the Upper Chamber. The failure to respect the electoral calendar means that the country is currently without a Lower House, the Senate is lacking two-thirds of its members (20) and all local representatives have been appointed by the Executive. This makes the President, with the 10 senators in situ, the only political authorities with popular legitimacy granted in the polls.

Haiti is currently experiencing a profound institutional and political crisis. This CEP was appointed after at least three failed attempts to form an Electoral Council by the current president. This was both because of scandals involving some members and because of political mobilization in the street by the opposition, President Martelly finally had to ask for the resignation of the previous electoral council members he appointed. Much of the opposition until recently even formally demanded the president’s resignation as a precondition for participating in the elections.

Preliminary electoral results

After several administrative problems, cases of violence during the elections, allegations of widespread fraud, the CEP announced on August 20 the electoral results. Participation was very low, even by Haitian standards. Only 18% of registered voters went to the polls. In the West Department, which counts near 40% of the voters, turnout did not even reach 10%. There is no space in this text to address all the aspects that may have influenced this low level of participation, but widespread political violence before and during the electoral event, and little enthusiasm for the candidates to the presidency are worth pointing out. Many civil society organizations have identified the fear of violence as the main reason that explains the low level of participation. The CEP has even disqualified 14 parliamentary candidates from participating in the runoff elections, because of their involvement in violence during the electoral event. It is also important to highlight the fact that the presidential candidates have not been able to mobilize the electorate. A lack of charisma on their part combined with a sort of fatigue from the recurrent political crises help to explain this lack of enthusiasm from the electors.

The results also indicate that nine candidates to the Lower Chamber obtained more than 50% of the votes and, are elected in the first round. Four of them belong to the party of the current President (PHTK). For the second round, to be held concurrently on October 25 with the first round of presidential and local elections, most candidates are from the party of the President. It is very striking that INITE, the party of ex-President Preval, which won the last legislative elections in 2010, and Fanmi Lavalas, the party of former President Aristide, did not have much to say in these elections. Very few of their candidates will make it to the runoff of the legislative elections. The presidential candidate of INITE was disqualified by the CEP for lack of“decharge”(a document that certificates he managed properly public funds when he was a public servant) and the candidate of the party of Fanmi Lavalas, Marise Narcysse, does not have much standing in the polls. This marks surely a dramatic change from recent political battle in Haiti. This means that in some respect the politicians that dominated the former political polarization in Haiti have not been able to influence substantially this electoral event.


The electoral process in which Haiti is immersed this year represents a good opportunity to provide popular legitimacy to political representatives. However, the conditions under which it is being conducted threatens to leave the political crisis that preceded the elections intact. The CEP does not have the full support of the political actors. The opposition never misses an opportunity to denounce what they consider a fraudulent election. While allegations of fraud in favor of the ruling party have not been proven, the serious administrative shortcomings the CEP are not helping to increase its much needed popular legitimacy.

It is striking that the CEP has more international support than within the country. The Organization of American States, the European Union and the Embassy of the United States, which observed the elections, observed that the difficulties experienced during Election Day did not disqualify the electoral process as a whole. However, this is not the view of the politicians that are participating in the process.

In short, if this current trend of contestation of the electoral process lasts, it is possible that the elections will not produce politically legitimate elected representatives. That would be another false departure that could set the context for another five years of political crisis, as was the case with the previous presidential election.

Roody Reserve is the Director of the Master Programme in Political Science, at the Universidad Centroamericana José Simeón Cañas (UCA, El Salvador). His research interest cover the comparative poltics of Central America, State Capacity, President and Legislative relations, Parties and Party Systems in Haiti and Central America

Haiti – In search of Senate elections

The political system in Haiti is in a constant state of flux. Since the onset of some form of democracy in 1987, there have been repeated collapses, transitions, and occasionally some governance. In part, this is due to the constitution. The president has relatively few powers and requires a majority in parliament to govern. Parliament is split between two chambers. They have basically equal powers. Both have to approve the government and both can bring it down. The Senate also sits in permanent session, meaning that the government is permanently looking over its shoulder. While the constitution is poorly designed, the earthquake in January 2010 was so devastating that existing political and economic problems were exacerbated making all aspects of governance more difficult.

President Michel Martelly took office in May 2011. He has struggled to win majority support in either house, and has faced particular difficulty in the Senate. Elections to the Chamber of Deputies were held with the presidential election in November 2010/March 2011. They are due to be held at the same time as the next presidential election. However, elections to the Senate are overdue. If they were to be held and if the president could win a majority there, then he would be much better placed to pass legislation. However, holding elections to the Senate is causing problems.

The Senate comprises 30 Senators. Full elections were held in 2006. Since then, there have been a number of constitutional amendments that have changed the duration of their mandate. However, the current situation is that Senators serve for six years with a partial renewal of the seats every two years, with 10 seats being elected each time on a rolling US-style basis. There were partial elections in 2009. There were also partial elections in 2010/2011. There were due to be partial elections at the end of 2011. However, they were delayed because of problems with establishing an acceptable, independent and permanent electoral commission. This means that since 2012, there have been only 20 Senators in office. The next round of partial elections was scheduled for later this year when they were due to be held with the local elections, but there is no guarantee that they will go ahead. This opens up the possibility of there being only 10 Senators left if elections do not take place.

The delay in holding elections has partly been caused by a delay in setting up a new and permanent electoral commission. In April 2013 a so-called Collège Transitoire du Conseil Électoral Permanent (CTCEP) was established. This was an interim electoral commission. It was the result of a lot of bargaining between the executive and the legislature. However, it meant that in theory there was now an institutional mechanism for organising elections. In December an electoral law was passed by both chambers of parliament and was promulgated by the president. In January of this year the president of the interim commission announced that elections to the Senate could be held within six months, begging the question of whether this would be just for the 10 vacant seats or for those seats and for the 10 seats that are due to expire at the end of this year as well. However, faced with these difficulties and also a cause of them, various Senators have been pressing for the length of their mandate to be extended. More than that, some Senators, notably those associated with the former President Aristide and his Fanmi Lavalas group, have threatened violence if their terms are not extended. So, the absence of elections is more than just the inability of political groups to agree on the composition of an electoral commission. It is also the result of some groups not wanting an election to be held at all.

To help resolve the situation, at the end of January at the suggestion of the churches there was a two-week-long period of ‘national dialogue’. This brought together representatives of the executive, legislature, political parties and civil society, though not all representatives always attended, notably the Fanmi Lavalas.

In the end, an agreement was reached. There are signs that it would have led to a new electoral commission with the promise of new elections as well as a change of government but not necessarily the PM, who is an ally of the President Martelly. However, the agreement was still-born. President Martelly refused to name 10 members of the Cour Supérieure des Comptes et du Contentieux Administratif (CSCCA) as required by the deal. Therefore, the president of the Senate, Simon Dieuseul Desras, who is an opponent of President Martelly, refused to sign the agreement. The agreement has now been delayed ‘sine die’.

However, maybe there is hope. President Martelly and the president of the Senate, Simon Dieuseul Desras, are both travelling to Rome to attend the investiture of Haiti’s first ever cardinal on Sunday. They are not travelling together, but there is the hope that they may meet on the margins of the visit and reach a deal that will end of the country’s many periods of transition.