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Haiti – A new prime minister and the politics of retrenchment of President Jovenel Moïse

Article 156 of the constitution of Haiti stipulates that the prime minister runs the government and is responsible before the parliament, which can at any time decides his fate with a vote of confidence or no-confidence. This constitutional prerogative of the parliament was in full display two months ago when, on July 14th, following an interpellation by the chamber of deputies, the then prime minister, Jack Guy Lafontant, announced his resignation after it was clear that he would be voted out by a majority of legislators from his own party. This was the consequence of violent and deadly demonstrations that had rocked the capital a week before, when angry protesters took to the streets to denounce the decision of the government to increase fuel prices, following a recommendation by the International Monetary Fund.

After the events that took place on that fateful July 7th , a large group of businessmen and legislators from the ruling PHTK party decided that it was the moment to seal the fate of Lafontant. They joined the growing chorus of political opponents that had been asking for the departure of the government. The resignation of the prime minister marked the first moment since the beginning Jovenel Moïse’s young presidency that the opposition had been able to score an important political point. But, this win came when many people had defected from his own party, taking advantage of the weakness of the president in the wake of the violent demonstrations to force his hand to change the primer minister. In this sense, the events that brought down the government are the result of the calculus of different actors who are trying to advance different objectives in the present context.

The preference of the president, Jovenel Moïse, would have been to maintain Jack Guy Lafontant as his prime minister. He made clear on several occasions before the events that finally forced his hand that he wanted no changes. On April 24th when he reluctantly agreed to change 27% of the cabinet, he made it clear over a period of several weeks that he was against the idea. Only after the defection of many legislators from his party did he finally accepted to swear in five new ministers.

The fact that it took the president an entire week to finally come to terms with the idea of the resignation of Lafontant after the riots of July 7th , when political actors both from his party and the opposition had signed off on the Prime Minister, shows that the president was not at all convinced that such a change was necessary.

It took Jovenel Moïse a full month to find a new prime minister. He is Jean Henry Céant, a former presidential candidate. Céant then spent exactly another month forming a new cabinet of 18 ministers, in which 33% (6 out of 18) are left over from the old government. Two months after the last wave of protests, the president was finally able to convince a majority of the legislators of his own party to approve the declaration of politics of the new government. On September 14th and 16th, the Senators and the Chamber of the Deputies approved the Cabinet and, Céant became the 21th Prime Minister since 1988 in Haiti.

But, from what we know of the negotiations between the president and the legislators from his own party, it is clear that the road to the nomination of Céant and the formation of the government was not smooth. Many legislators vented their frustration and criticisms in public when it was clear that they would not have the ability to secure their preferred outcomes. With the next legislative elections scheduled to take place at the end of next year, the majority that voted in favor of the new government has been promised a substantial amount of money for their constituency. In the coming months, if for any reason the government does not maintain its end of the bargain, it is possible that the country will experience another episode of instability in the government.

The opposition parties whose demonstrations in the street finally led to the fall of the Lafontan’s government have not been able to capitalize from the instability they created. Even though the new primer minister, Céant, is from a branch of the opposition, they have not been able to secure any relevant position in the cabinet. All of the Ministers are from the ruling PHTK party or political groups around the President.

With the resignation of Lafontant, many in the opposition asked for a “cohabitation”, where the opposition parties would govern alongside the President. Such a scenario would be their best second outcome, since they have not enough political strength to force out President Jovenel Moïse, as they have been trying to do since his election. But the reality is that the opposition has very little sway in this conjuncture. Its presence in both chambers of parliament is merely testimonial. In fact, recent events are more a product of internal infighting in the PHTK and the miscalculations of Prime Minister Lafontant.

The goal of the opposition in the coming months will be to maintain street demonstrations against the government. During the discussions around the formation of the new government, many cases of corruption in which the name of individuals from the PHTK were cited. The opposition parties seem poised to keep mobilizing around this issue in an attempt to discredit the president. Their ability to maintain pressure around these cases will be vital for their relevance in the near future.

Haiti – The next elections are never too far away

In the second year of his presidency Jovenel Moise could use this old saying, “I pray God to deliver me from my friends, so that I can defend myself from my enemies”, to characterize the reality of his relationship with the members of the coalitions around the party PHTK that made possible his past electoral successes. In the absence of an opposition with enough strength to control the government, the infighting in his own camp has been in full display in the last months.

The first issue concerned the composition of the cabinet. One year after the inauguration of the presidency, many legislators from the PHTK are unhappy with the way the government is holding itself. Around March of this year, some of the leaders in the two houses of parliaments begun to ask for major changes in the government. The president stated publicly on many occasions that he thought his government was doing a good job and that he did not think it was necessary to let go of some of the ministers.

But around April 20 the political situation accelerated rapidly. A group of legislators registered a motion of interpellation against the prime minister and demanded changes in 72 hours, or the government would face a no-confidence vote. Before the ultimatum had expired, the president announced the replacement of 5 ministers. Table I shows the name of the new and old head of each Ministry.

Table I. New names in the Cabinet in Haiti

Minister

Name of the new minister

Name of the old minister

Interior and Territorial Communities

Jean Mary Reynaldo Brunet

Rudolph St. Albin

Justice

Jean Roudy Aly

Heidi Fortuné

Agriculture, Natural Resources and Rural Development

Jobert C. Angrand

Carmel Béliard

Culture and Communication

Guyler C. Delva

Limond Toussaint

Haitians Living Abroad

Guy André Junior Francois

Stéphanie Auguste (she held the post in interim)

The new Ministers, especially in the case of Brunet and Delva, respectively Ministers of Interior and Culture and Communication, are known for their close relationship with former president Martelly, whose ambitions to become president again is a growing concern among some of his detractors. But, at the same time, the changes also demonstrate the nervousness among some legislators of the PHTK about the next parliamentary elections, which are due in the second semester of 2019.

The changes to the composition of the government come in the context of an intense debate about the best way to combat the rising level of insecurity that many communities have been experiencing in the last months. The representatives of the PHTK in parliament know that it will be difficult to secure another term with the high level of insecurity that the country is facing in this moment. Hence their desire to regain some  of the initiative through the changes to the Ministers of Justice and Interior. That gives them both a chance to try new approaches and, in passing, a tool to control the territory prior to the scheduled parliamentary elections of next year.

So far, the solutions introduced by the new ministers of Interior and Justice have not convinced any one. In face of the insecurity, they have prioritized a strategy of open confrontation with the gang members that has produced many victims in the communities already besieged by them. The Minister of Justice has gone so far as to jail journalists that allow gangs members to use their programs. In a letter sent to their associations, he declared that those who open their microphone to gang members will be considered as their accomplices.

At the same time, the Minister of Justice has decided to modify, through a presidential decree, the ability of the National Director of the Police to control the troops. The new decree, in a decision that clearly runs contrary to the law, obliges the head of the Police to seek the approval of the Higher Council of the Police, a political institution directed by the Primer Minister, for any changes to the rank and file of the institution. The new decision has been interpreted as an effort to politicize the operation of the institution.

Ironically, the changes in the cabinet that were designed to give the governing party more space to manoeuvre have generated more problems for the government. Even the weak and fragmented opposition has found a new reason to try to reactivate its troops against the government.

Many PHTK legislators have publicly criticised the government. Some are still unhappy about the scope of the changes in the cabinet. Others think that changes in the government should also address other pressing social problems. Many are against the idea being discussed by the government to stop subsidizing gas prices, which represent around 2% of the GDP while Health spending is just 0.8% of the GDP.

In this sense, Jovenel Moise has a real dilemma on his hands. His principal critics are now his own ‘allies’. The actual fight for the control of the government might even foretell the results of the next presidential election in 2021.

Haiti – A politically successful first year for President Jovenel Moise

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.

Haiti – An abrupt end to a brief presidential honeymoon

Since his inauguration, 8 months ago, as the constitutional President of Haiti, Jovenel Moise has had a relatively peaceful honeymoon period. The natural sense of wait-and-see that comes with a new administration and the additional “help” of tropical storms and hurricanes contributed to some months of political calm. But, since the beginning of July an apparently harmless string of protests for an increase in the minimum wage has led to many actors taking off the gloves. Now daily protests including some very violent ones have become routine in the streets in Port-au-Prince.

Jovenel Moise began his mandate as a very active president. Fulfilling the campaign pledge to act primarily in the interests of the peasants, he proposed initiatives such as the electrification of localities in the countryside or and the boosting of farm production. These actions have contributed to a relatively well regarded president in the provinces, but with less to show to the residents of the cities. With frequent visits to and many projects in rural areas, Jovenel has converted himself into an omnipresent President. In the process, he has entirely eclipsed his Primer Minister and the government. Litle is known about the government and, if it was not for some corruption scandals that have been revealed by the press, many ministers would have gone unnoticed. With full control over parliament (the president’s party controls both chambers) the president operates as the de facto head of the government, negotiating directly with the legislators.

The reality of a president who operates without any check from the legislative branch is playing for now at least in his favor. For the first time since 1986, a president was able to obtain the ratification of his first choice as Prime Minister. Also, for the first time in many years, he was able to present a budget and have it approved on time. But, in an unstable political context as is usually the case in Haiti, this situation can be harmful in the long run for Jovenel Moise. If the opposition succeeds in convincing the public that the government is ineffective, then since the president is seen as the main actor of the government, the departure of the Prime Minister will not be perceived as a genuine solution to the problem. The practice of using the Prime Minister as a scapegoat to deflect political pressure from the president will be less likely.

With the violent protests that have been under way lately, the opposition has begun to test the popularity of the government. Unsurprisingly, the movement began in Port-au-Prince, in the slum cities where the president is less active. The pretext was the publication by the president of the budget for the next fiscal year. The protesters argue that the spending plans do not tackle the social conditions of the country and that they do not allocate enough resources to important areas as health care, education and judicial system. In this context, parliament also approved a scandalous increase in its allocation, a 74% increase compared to the previous fiscal exercise (102% for deputies and, the senate 55%).

There is no doubt that the budget does not address the many difficulties that the country is facing. But, it also evident that the protests can’t be explain solely by the shortcomings of the budget. The protests should be read as the new opening of the political drama. After last year’s elections that Jovenel and his PHTK won without appeal, the opposition needed desperately an opportunity to become relevant. The budget gives them that opportunity. How the situation evolves will depend on the capacity of the government to deactivate the mobilization of other sectors that are hoping to extract some concessions from the government and on the ability of the opposition to convince others of the inefficacy of the government.

Haiti – Jovenel Moise: A novel politician for a fluid political context

On February 7 Jovenel Moise was sworn in as the 47th president of Haiti. It was the beginning of 2015 when the word came out that Michel Joseph Martelly, then president of Haiti, had chosen Jovenel Moise as the candidate of his PHTK party in the presidential election that was scheduled to take place the same year. At least two things stood out with regard to this choice. First, Martelly left out other potential candidates from his own political organization and decided without consultation to enthrone Moise. The second element was the newness of the  chosen candidate. He had never participated in politics before.

Prior to his presidential candidacy, Jovenel Moise was an entrepreneur in the agroindustrial sector. He was known for his efforts to secure financial aid for his businesses and not for his political ambitions. But, in a political context where parties are weak and the president holds all the levers of power, Martelly was able to impose his protégé. Even though two elections were necessary to secure the triumph of Moise, the ex-president finally won his gamble. The question is now how will the new president govern, how will his political inexperience factor in with the structural problems he inherited and, how will he position himself in relation to his allies who are preparing the return of Michel Martelly.

Even though Jovenel Moise easily won the election in the first round, there are structural weaknesses to his presidency. First, only 15% of the electorate participated in the elections. Because the opposition was very weak, it has been was enable to use the results against the president. Despite efforts to mobilize against what they dubbed as a rigged elections, they were unable to convince the population that it was worth continuing with the protests in the street. But, any connoisseur of the Haitian situation would still point to the fact that this lack of support could be used against the president in the future.

The PHTK was founded by then president Michel Martelly. Many of the party’s legislators who now control both chambers of the parliament, through alliances with other parties, are considered to be loyal partners of Martelly. During his first months in office, Moise seems to have been able to reign in these politicians. He successfully resisted pressure from his political allies and appointed a prime minister, who parliament actually confirmed, who had no relationships with the political class. In order to boost his political capital, he has embarked in a national tour, which, according to his communication team, will present solutions suitable to each locality.

Meanwhile, many crises are looming and they have the potential to disrupt the new president. Beside persistent structural economic problems, the social situation has also been tense in the  first 5 months of the presidency. Members of several union organizations have mobilized, demanding a rise in their wage. So far, politicians have been kept out of the  protest movement. But, knowing the structural weaknesses of the president and political system in Haiti, it could only be a matter of time before things get ugly.

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.

Haiti – The vindication of Michel Martelly

On November 20 Haiti held presidential and parliamentary elections. The preliminary results indicate that the candidate of the PHTK party, Jovenel Moise, has won enough votes to secure the presidency in the first round of the elections. The party has also won, or is in good position to control, the majority of the senate and a healthy plurality of deputies. These results represent a very important departure from the situation a few months ago.

On February 7 Michel Joseph Martelly was forced to leave power after a constellation of opponents, through massive demonstrations on the streets, successfully discredited the electoral results that placed the now winner, Jovenel Moise, in ballotage. On that occasion Moise won a mere 33% of the votes ahead of Jude Célestin, with 25% percent. At that time, the opposition took power. Jocelerme Privert, a senator from the opposition, was sworn in as interim president. Ten months later, what appeared to be an opportunity for the opposition to oust the Martelly regime has become the most important vindication of the ex-president and his party.

What went wrong for the opposition? How was Jovenel Moise finally able to win? This post analyzes briefly the political situation that led to the triumph of the Pro-Martelly camp. Two elements stands out in explaining the results: the fragmentation of the opposition and the massive investment of the economic elites in Jovenel Moise. 

The designation of Privert to the interim Presidency and his subsequent decision not to honor the deal to give the office of the Prime Minister to an ally of the Martelly Camp, had a double effect on the political actors. On the one hand, the PHTK party and its allies quickly coalesced around the candidacy of Jovenel Moise. The amount of money they invested in the elections is a good indicator of their commitment. We do not have exact information about the level of spending, but all observers recognize that the PHTK heavily outspent all of their opponents. The endless resources available were in full display during the weeks after the powerful category 4 storm that ripped through Haiti on October 4 and forced the cancellation of the election previously set for October 20. All of the candidates used the emergency to manipulate the vote from the most affected regions by handing out goods to them. Yet Jovenel Moise was the one that spent most heavily. Evidence shows that his investment in the Departments most affected by the storm was rewardedAlthough Moise dominated in all regions, he especially outperformed his rivals in these regions. According to the preliminary results, outside the Northern regions where the candidate has been always very strong, he performed relatively well in the South, the Nippes and Grand Anse, the regions devastated by the storm.

As regards the opponents of Jovenel Moise, the popular front they created and that successfuly forced the departure of Martelly did not endure in the face of the real possibility that they might win the elections. With Martelly ousted and delegitimized, they entirely underestimated his protégé. Instead of using the new situation to campaign, like Moise was doing all through the transition period, they spent their time trying to influence and gain control over the new government. In the end, Jovenel Moise was able to use successfully all the resources that the economic elites were putting at his disposition. These facts explain in some measure the electoral results.

But can we expect a period of political stability after the elections? The answer, again, is not a definitive yes. It will depend on the ability of the new president to navigate the complicated political, economic and social situation. On one hand, it is worth pointing out that only 21% of the electorate went to the poll. On the other, the most important candidates are already protesting the results, both on the streets and before the Electoral Council (CEP). Three out of the 9 members of the CEP did not sign the preliminary results. The evolution of the situation in the next days will tell us what kind of 2017 Haiti will face politically.

Haiti – Last-chance elections?

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.

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.

Haiti – The political situation in flux

Joseph Michel Martelly finished his term as president on February 7 2016. As expected, he handed the presidential sash to the president of the National Assembly, Jocelerme Privert. 7 days later, the same Privert was sworn in as interim president for 120 days, to conclude the electoral process that Martelly has been unable to close. This post analyses the political events that have taken place since the departure of Martelly and the implications for the electoral process and political stability in Haiti in the near future.

The consequences of the end of the Martelly era

The failure to hand the presidential sash to a constitutionally elected president on February 7, meant that the worst nightmare of Michel Martelly became true. The election of Privert by the legislators put a hold on the political ambitions of the heirs of Martelly. In practice, since February 14 the opposition forces that contested Martelly in the streets have held the political initiative. Privert has been maneuvering to sidestep the caretaker government left in place by the president.

Two days before leaving office, Martelly signed an agreement with the leaders of the assembly and the senate that would serve as a blueprint for the transition until new elections. The accord stipulates that the parliament would elect an interim president, who would establish a new electoral council, evaluate the results of the first round of the elections, and organise the remaining electoral contests on April 24. The inauguration of a newly elected president is scheduled to take place on May 14.

More than 30 days after the election of the interim president, the political process has been stalled. Privert has not been able to form a new government. He has also been unable to convince the legislators allied with the party of Martelly to vote for the chosen prime minister, Fritz Jean. The leaders of these legislators have voiced concerns about the fact that the nomination of Fritz Jean means giving absolute control to the former opposition to Martelly. In this sense, more than one month after the departure of Martelly, the political situation is still not clear in Haiti.

What should we expect from now?

The departure of Martelly on February 7 has left a clear political winner: the opposition parties that took to the streets to contest his political decisions and the elections. Since then, many of the members of these parties have official entry to the palace and the president. Street protests have mostly been silent. All actors are trying to manoeuvre the situation so as not to lose ground and have enough leverage to influence the political process when the elections are held. In this sense the actual political situation in Haiti is tense but calm with actors expecting a clash over the political process.

The forces that derailed Martelly’s plan to hand over the presidency to Jovenel Moise have so far had the upper hand. An interim president was sworn in, a new electoral council (CEP), mostly containing former critics of the previous CEP, will take over the electoral process; a commission for evaluating the electoral process will be formed. We can be almost certain that the candidate of the PHTK, the party of the former president, will find it very difficult to win the upcoming elections.

But in this context many important questions remain unanswered. First it is not clear how the groups allied with Martelly will react when it becomes clear that they will lose power to influence the course of the political events in Haiti. Are they going to use the streets as their opponents did during the government of Martelly? Are they going to use the paramilitary forces that threatened to defend Martelly in his final days in office? Will each legislator try to save his own situation indivually? History shows that the structural weakness of political parties plays against any group strategy in Haiti. Influential politicians agree to particular deals to advance their own situation to the detriment of other members of their groups.

The second series of questions concerns the behaviour of the members of the opposition? Are they going to maintain their alliance in order to confront the challenges posed by the Martelly camp? So far the parties that formed the former opposition have been unified in the face of the challenges they had to overcome in order to win the battle against Martelly. Here too history has shown that unity is not a path always favoured by Haitian politicians.

Finally, as we enter the second month of the presidency of Jocelerme Privert still awaiting the formation of the new electoral council, it is almost certain that 120 days will not suffice to organize the elections. In this sense, it is probable that the parliament will need to prolong the mandate of the interim president and its government. What kind of guarantee  will Privet give in order to secure the continuity of the presidency?

It will be necesarry to watch very closely the behaviour of the actors in the coming days to have clear answers to these interrogations. But what is clear is that the short-term political future of Haiti hinges upon their response. The way they interpret their interest will dictate the degree of political instability that lies ahead.