While we can all agree that Haiti has a leadership crisis and that a democratically elected leader must emerge, the report misses or dismisses several hurdles that will undermine the credibility of the elections and, more importantly, will pose a serious threat to the safety of the Haitian people. The report focuses largely on procedural aspects, such as issuing electoral registration cards and submission of the Presidential request so the organization work can commence and international aid money can begin to flow in. But the report, unfortunately, complete misses the security aspect of elections and does not factor in the historical precedent for discredited elections to throw the country into complete chaos. The report concludes that the leadership vacuum is more detrimental than the challenges stemming from less than perfect elections. They cite Afghanistan and Iraq as prime examples of this theory.
HURDLES TO NOVEMBER ELECTIONS
1. Electoral Infrastructure Cannot Be Rebuilt by November
The earthquake affected 3 million people, and five months later 2.1 million of them are still living in makeshifts camps 1,350 in total without potable water, healthcare, food, or basic services. Approximately, 90,000 citizens left Port-au-Prince to the Central Plateau; 160,000 went to the Artibonite Department; and, 60,000 went to the Grande Anse. Other Departments have also absorbed people, but there are no official or unofficial numbers yet.These citizens are putting pressure on the public infrastructure of the Departments that they are using as temporary residencies. The public schools and other public facilities have essentially turned into public housing. And finally, of the 140 municipalities in Haiti, the earthquake directly affected 80 and indirectly 40.
The earthquake took an equally alarming toll on the meager electoral resources existing in Haiti:
The headquarters of the electoral council was destroyed;
66% of the polling stations in four geographic department were destroyed;
6,000 schools collapsed along with most of the public government buildings that usually serve as registration and voting centers;
Of the 4.5 million voters, more that 45% of the voters have lost their electoral registration card, which is mandatory to vote. Approximately, 1.9 million people will need new registration cards and the National Office of Identification (ONI) issuing these cards says that they can produce only 60 cards a day. Many have also lost their national identify cards, birth certificates and ownership papers making it extremely challenging to establish identities for the reissuance of electoral cards; and,
Approximately 300,000 Haitians lost their lives in the earthquake and probably 70% of them were registered voters; therefore, the voters' list will need to be updated to reflect that loss.
The electoral process has 23 steps from the installation of the electoral council to the publication of the results in the middle of that you have the naming of the municipal and regional oversight officials, issuance of the electoral law, voter and candidate registration, training for officials, etc. Under normal circumstances, it takes ten months to organize legislative and presidential elections.
While the electoral council may tell the U.S. Government that they can organize elections, given these facts, the logistics for a November election are completely unrealistic.Additionally, they have also neglected to factor in that Haiti is facing the added serious threat this summer of the worst hurricane season in decades. It is likely that more than 13 violent storms could hit the country this summer, which will clearly require further aid not to mention emergency planning.
2. The Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) Has No Credibility
The Lugar report references and IFES report that states that while the CEP is technically capable of organizing elections, "giving the mandate of organizing the upcoming elections to the current CEP would mean that the electoral process will be considered flawed and questionable from the beginning."
The CEP has been politically discredited for previous participation in rigged and manipulated elections in April and June 2009 in favor of President Preval's party, Inite. As a result, civil society groups, political parties, churches, private sector representatives, and the Haitians Diaspora have called for the naming of nine new members in accordance with Article 289 of the Constitution.
Poll worker on election day
Technically, the CEP lacks the infrastructure or expertise to organize elections. U.S. assistance to Haiti's elections started in 1989 at the request of Provisional President Pascale Trouillot.From 1989 to 2010 the United States spent US$400 million supporting Haiti's elections. After 21 years of technical and financial support to Haiti's electoral process, there is nothing to show for that investment: no credible or permanent electoral council, no official voter registry, no professional staff, no IT system, and no permanent infrastructure (such as ballot boxes or ballot formats). Every two years, the entire process needs to be recreated by a provisional electoral council, the CEP, with international assistance and maybe some leftover ballot boxes.
Haiti's electoral machine has not been institutionalized because no benchmarks were put in place to ensure the construction of an impartial and competent electoral council. The beneficiaries of U.S. funding, the United Nations, have a poor track record in institutionalizing electoral processes around the world. Instead of building sustainable indigenous capacity, they typically engage expensive consultants and foreign companies to organize and administer the elections. All the expertise leaves the country after the elections, and there is no effort to build capacity. This practice must change.
3. The Security of the Haitian People Cannot be Ensured
The Preval machine along with his allies in the corrupt business cartel, Groupe de Bourdon, want to preserve their power and privilege and will continue to employ violence and intimidation in that quest. There is no doubt that they are planning to intimidate voters and employ violence to influence the vote. This puts the entire electorate in danger, and there are no security forces to mitigate that risk.
The MINUSTAH (or UN headquarters) was completely demolished in the earthquake and has not been rebuilt. They do not currently have the capacity or credibility among the Haitian people to ensure safety during the elections.
The Haitian police are trying to be professional, but they lack capacity. MINUSTAH has been in country since 2004 and has received $732 million per year (or more than $4 billion) to train the Haitian police force and undertake peacekeeping operations. But the results are minimal compared to the money spent, and consequently the Haitian police, while eager and committed, are not fully trained. Same thing happened in Iraq and Afghanistan. Spending money but never built up capacity
Finally, and most importantly, while the police are trying their best to get guns off the streets, the Presidential Disarmament Commission, CNDDR, undermines their efforts. One of the two presidential advisors leading commission, Jean Philippe Jean Baptiste a.k.a Samba Boukman, was the chief architect and implementer of "Operation Bagdad" which resulted in the murder of 1,900 people, among them 100 police officers, the kidnapping of more than 800 people, and the rape of 400 women. For more see here: http://www.rnddh.org/article.php3?id_article=300Every time the police arrest gang members and confiscate their weapons, they are required to turn them over to the CNDDR, which in turn distributes them to government loyalists.
4. Preval Already Undermining the Electoral Process
President Preval already has a questionable record on democracy, security and electoral manipulation, for more see here: http://solutionshaiti.blogspot.com/2008/01/president-rene-prevals-questionable.html . The April 6, 1997 elections were rigged by Presidents Preval and Aristide, and resulted in the resignation of Prime Minister Rosny Smarth who opposed the manipulation of the results in favor of the ruling Lavalas Party. This electoral crisis also led to the dissolution of parliament by Preval in January 11, 1999. They again rigged the elections of May 21 and November 2000, which led to the resignation of President Aristide on February 29, 2004. Political instability and violence ensued after each of these elections. The people did not then swallow false electoral results for the sake of stability and they will not do so this time either.
President Preval has already begun to undermine the electoral process by extending his term in office by three months unless a successor is chosen prior to the expiration of his term. This violates the decree that installed him as president (the official decree of March 24, 2006 states that Preval's term would be over on February 7, 2011) as well as Article 134.1 and 134.3 of the Constitutions which states that the President cannot extend his term in office under any circumstances.
In addition the President enacted an Emergency and Reconstruction Law, which violates many aspects of Haiti's constitution. The law suspends civil liberties (such as the right to organize and the right of free speech) and gives him the authority to arrest and detain any citizen indefinitely and without justification. Additionally, the law gives foreigners political rights in Haiti and eliminates the Haitian government's authority to control expenditures for eighteen months (to given foreign actors complete control over the aid money deployment).Parliamentary oversight has been put aside as has the authority of the office issuing RFP's for the public sector, the inspector general of finance, and the General Accounting Office. The role of the ministers has been narrowed as well. In other words, all key Haitian state institutions have been illegally suspended giving a tiny group of people close to President Preval and the international community total control. All checks and balances have been eliminated.
The constitutionality of both of these actions (the term extension and reconstruction law) has been challenged in the Haitian courts and is pending verdict.
A VIABLE ALTERNATIVE
The Lugar report quotes the US Ambassador to Haiti as saying,
"If elections are not held before President Preval's extended mandate expires, Haiti may be confronted by a vacuum of power at every level of government. If this occurs, a government of transition would need to be established, which would be difficult to form and likely lack popular support."
In fact, a transitional government is not difficult to form; there is precedent. Article 149 of the Constitution mandates the President of the Supreme Court assume provisional presidency for the purpose of organizing elections and running the day-to-day aspects of governance. This provision has been successfully invoked twice in the past two decades in 1990 for the successful election of Aristide, and in 2004 for the successful election of Preval.Both elections were viewed as free and fair by the people of Haiti and the process of organization was viewed as credible and legitimate. In other words, in the minds of the Haitian people, this is a credible process that has worked in the past.
Given all the challenges to elections and the extreme safety and security risks with rushing forward to organize elections that have the overwhelming odds of being less than perfect, invoking Article 149 is an attractive, credible and safe option for addressing Haiti's leadership crisis in the near term.
The following are general recommendations for conditions that should be put in place for credible elections to move forward.
Recommendation 1. Reorganize the CEP.
Name new impartial, independent leaders of the CEP in accordance with Article 289 of the Constitution.
Name new Departmental leaders for the CEP as the current leadership has participated in previous manipulation and needs to be replaced.
Create the position of Executive Director responsible for the technical aspects and management of elections.
Refocus international assistance from election administration to capacity building in an effort to put in place a more permanent electoral infrastructure.
MINUSTAH must have accountability as well. Benchmarks should be put in place for their capacity building efforts.
Recommendation 2. Develop a Security Plan.
The CNDDR must be dissolved in order to truly get guns off the streets.
MINUSTAH should be subject to benchmarks for police capacity building as well as for election security.
MINUSTAH should provide special training for the unique challenges of securing polling stations.
There must be a plan to disarm the gangs.
Recommendation 3. Set Realistic Deadlines for Technical Procedures to be Met
Scrubbing the election registry and issuing new cards should be transparent and diligent.Rushing this process will result in mistakes and will open the door for the elections to be discredited.
A FINAL NOTE ON ELECTIONS " AND PRIORITIES
What is concerning more broadly and certainly beyond Senator Lugar's report is the international community's focus on who will be the next leader of Haiti. Certainly Haiti needs and deserves a strong, effective leader. But equally important is having strong, effective institutions. Haiti's ministries, electoral council, judiciary, legislature, and security forces are almost totally and completely inept. We saw concrete proof of this in their complete and total lack of emergency response to the earthquake. There was no plan, no process and no clue about where to begin. The international community stepped in and each organization did their own thing without coordination and chaos ensued.
In order to ensure that Haiti does not need to face constant leadership crises, the international community could play an important and critical role in working to strengthen the Haitian institutions rather than singularly focusing on finding the perfect leader. This approached has resulted in disaster time and time again. Aristide manipulated the international community several times. He requested occupation and then flipped. He requested evacuation and then was restored to power. It simply does not work. Haiti needs a strong foundation to enforce accountability or even the strongest leader will not succeed.
We can all agree that elections are critical. But they are relatively meaningless if we cannot ensure the safety of the people or the credibility of the elections. Less than perfect elections are not and have never been acceptable to the Haitian people. Every single political crisis since 1995 has been sparked by less than perfect elections. The people will not look the other way simply because they are suffering. In fact, they will hold these elections to a higher standard because they are more important than ever.With no hope in sight, no shelter, no access to healthcare, education or regular meals, this is the only opportunity for the people actually living in these tent cities to have a voice in their country. They know that. And organizing and certifying less than perfect elections will certainly ignite the simmering frustration. Already people are protesting in the streets against the unconstitutional Emergency and Recovery Law.
Finally, there is considerable anxiety that the effort and focus required to organize elections, which we can all agree will be flawed, will distract from the real and urgent priorities of getting aid to the people and preparing for the serious threat of the coming hurricane season.Little measurable progress is being made and it is heartbreaking to see the people in makeshift tents bracing against forecasts for the worst hurricanes in decades. There are other more pressing priorities that need full focus and attention so when we have a tested and legitimate process to address the leadership challenge, it seems like we should take advantage of that and roll up our sleeves to focus on the urgent tasks at hand.