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HAITI
Elections amidst violence and humanitarian crisis
Milo Milfort
8/17/2015
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The legislative elections that seek to bring back institutionalism to Haiti were held after nearly four years of delay.

At least three dead and a dozen wounded, 4 percent of the 1,508 voting centers looted — affecting 5 percent of the more than 5.8 million registered voters — and 137 arrests were the outcome of the parliamentary elections held on Aug. 9 after nearly four years of delay.

In addition to these incidents, the absence of representatives of certain parties in many polling stations, the omission of voters’ names in the electoral roll, sabotage of voting materials, ballot boxes filled with fake votes, altercations among members of political parties, attacks with stones, armed incursions into the reserved area in the polling centers, were among other irregularities that have plagued the elections.

“It was a difficult day,” admitted to the press Pierre Louis Opont, president of the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP). However, Opont and the Haitian authorities expressed their satisfaction with the process.

In these elections participated 129 political organizations, 232 Senate candidates for the 20 seats available, and 1,621 candidates for 119 vacancies in the Chamber of Deputies. It is expected that the results will be made public on August 19.

The elections were held in a socio-political and economic context marked by a general crisis due to the depreciation of the national currency, the gourde, the nonexistent reconstruction of the country after the devastating 2010 earthquake, high unemployment and an institutional vacuum. Since this past Jan. 12, President Michel Martelly and 10 senators are the only constitutional authorities in Haiti. On that date, the Parliament’s term expired and, as stated in the Constitution, it automatically dissolved after Martelly did not achieve an agreement with the opposition to prevent said dissolution.

“It is imperative that we return the constitutional order and the path of democracy. [With these elections] Haitians take a big step,” said Elena Valenciano, head of the European Union (EU) Election Observation Mission in Haiti, during a visit to the polling center located in the National High School of Pétion-Ville, a town on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince, the capital.

Indifference
Most of the streets in the metropolitan area of Port-au-Prince were empty during the election. Unlike previous elections, long lines of voters were not seen in front of the polling stations. Citizens have shown little interest in voting, and absenteeism is estimated to be high. Francis Clédanor, 47, lives in Juvenat, Pétion-Ville and said he went to vote only to meet his political and civil duties but did not expect anything like a transformation.

“I did not vote for change,” he told Latinamerica Press. “The authorities believe more in corruption instead of working for the country’s development. That angers me. There is no work here, the environment is completely destroyed, poverty worsens and the authorities do nothing to solve these problems.”

Franck Seguy, Haitian sociologist and professor at the State University of Haiti, told Latinamerica Press that “these elections are a strategy used by leaders to push people to forget the true problems of the country.”

Only between July 9 and Aug. 2, during the electoral campaign, the non-governmental organization National Human Rights Defense Network (RNDDH) identified several cases of violence, including nine armed clashes, five murders, two attempted murders, seven people wounded by gunshots, two wounds by knives, 17 injured by stone throwing and 10 cases of beatings with sticks.

These elections take place amidst protests against the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) — which is blamed for the 2010 cholera outbreak that has since killed at least 9,000 people and infected more than 700,000 —, the hurricane season and a time of increased insecurity. Add to this is the fact that five years after the earthquake that left more than 200,000 dead and 1.3 homeless, there are still thousands of people living in camps.

Another humanitarian crisis is the voluntary or forced return of around 60,000 people of Haitian descent from the Dominican Republic after the expiration last June of the registration period in the national regularization plan for foreigners. Thousands of Haitians born in the Dominican Republic were affected by a 2013 ruling of the Constitutional Court that did not recognize their Dominican citizenship for being descendants of illegal immigrants.

The role of the international community
The international community, particularly the United States and the European Union, never stopped pushing Haiti to carry out these elections.

This year is the 100th anniversary of the first US occupation of Haiti and, despite the role the United States played in the 2010 elections to press for Martelly’s election, this time the US Embassy issued a statement addressed to the Haitian people pointing out that “these elections are important. In any democratic system, elections constitute a direct link with the will of the people. Parliamentarians represent you and put your desires for government consideration. Make your voices heard through your vote.”

For his part, Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon said in a statement that “these long-awaited elections constitute a major milestone for democracy in Haiti” and welcomed “the increased ownership of the process by the Haitian people.”

“Credible, inclusive and transparent elections are a key to long-term stability and promotion of a vibrant democracy,” the statement said.

But the number of political parties has continued to increase in recent months, which may impact the governance of the country with a parliament with multiple small parties without a majority. The huge crisis between the executive branch and the opposition also explains the delay of elections in Haiti, not to mention the inability of President Martelly to ensure the necessary conditions for the elections.

In addition to parliamentary elections, before the end of 2015, presidential, municipal and local elections must be held. These will cost US$74 million. Seguy thinks that the funds for the elections could be used to improve the living conditions of the people.

“This can only lead to a masquerade ball,” he said. “They hold elections in order to continue running the pre-2010 plan, which is to ratify officials that will allow large Canadian and US mining companies, among others, to monopolize the country’s mineral resources.”

Clédanor agrees with Seguy in saying that the elections are held because of orders of countries like United States, Canada and France.

“Haiti does not have the freedom to hold the elections when it wants. They are held when the country finds external financing. The elections are held when the international community demands,” concluded Seguy. —Latinamerica Press.


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More than 1,800 candidates from 129 political organizations participated in the parliamentary elections. (Photo: Milo Milfort)
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