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Friday, February 4, 2011

Correcting the Facts on Haiti’s Electoral Process by Stanley Lucas

It was announced yesterday that Haiti will move forward with a run-off between the two top vote getters – M. Michel Martelly and Mme. Mirlande Manigat -- as determined by the Organization of American States (OAS).  The government-backed candidate, Jude Celestin, has bowed out of the process.  On the surface, this seems to have eased political tensions; however, there was no resolution to the legislative elections, which were just as rife with graft as the presidential elections.  Therefore, Preval’s ruling party, INITE, has managed to secure many of the legislative seats.  This unresolved issue could be a potential problem going forward.

In reading the reporting on the announcement and Haiti’s electoral process, there have been several factual inaccuracies about the process regarding the end of President Preval’s term in office and what the constitution says about a provisional government.  These two issues underlay much of the political wrangling and manipulation stalling the process, and merit a factual correction.

First, regarding the electoral process and the end of President Preval’s term, the Washington Post reported the following (for full text, see: ):

“The next question is what happens with Preval. Under the constitution, Preval's five-year term is supposed to end Monday. An emergency decree passed by the Senate last year would allow him to remain in office until May, because his 2006 inauguration was delayed.

Preval could remain in office until a successor is elected. The president has repeatedly stated that he wishes to remain in Haiti after his term is over - and not flee into exile as so many of his predecessors have done.”

This is the argument that Preval is making, but it is constitutionally inaccurate and a manipulation of the facts.  The March 24, 2006 Presidential Decree nominating him President states that his term ends on February 7, 2011.  The May emergency decree is unconstitutional and has no legal authority to trump the Haitian constitution.  Further, there is no provision to extend the term of office to account for a delayed inauguration.  Preval knows this.  In fact, in January 1999 there was a delay in seating the legislature, but Preval, then serving as president refused to extend the legislative term to account for the delay.  This is the process, and he cannot trump the rule of law.

Second, the Washington Post reports the following about the Constitutional provision regarding a provisional government:

“If Preval steps down, the Haitian constitution says the top member of Haiti's supreme court should serve as a caretaker leader for no more than 90 days. The court's presidency is currently vacant.”

The Constitution does not say “for no more than 90 days”.  It is possible to extend the provisional government beyond the 90 days, and that has been done twice before:  in 1989-90 and  2004.  The fact that the court’s presidency is vacant does not impede the process, article 149 of the Constitution.  Another member of the court may assume the provisional presidency.  Preval has deliberately kept that position vacant to create confusion in this situation.  Obviously, he anticipated the possibility of a provisional government at some point.

Preval is again manipulating the facts in order to cling to power.  The democratic opposition is calling to respect the rule of law in Haiti and follow the official process, which clearly says Preval’s term is over on Monday, February 7.

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