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.