It is during our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light

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Friday, February 4, 2011

Haiti Elections: Run Offs Only Part of the Solution by Stanley Lucas

Yesterday at the State Department, US Ambassador to Haiti, Kenneth Merten, praised the Haitian Government for following the OAS recommendations on how to proceed with the contested November 28 presidential and legislative elections, see first 10 minutes of the following video:  

While politically expedient, the solution is a Band Aid.  This plan is sloppy, leaves the job undone and the door open for further chaos, and fails to take into account anything the Haitian democratic opposition has proposed. 

In brief, the OAS recommendations and the Haitian Government solution says that the top two vote getters in the Presidential election, M. Michele Martelly and Mme. Mirlande Manigat, will compete in a run off scheduled for March.  It was largely seen as a success that Jude Celestin, the candidate backed by President Preval, was excluded from the process.  On the legislative elections, 22 of the 99 elected Deputies were allowed to stand, and there will be run offs for the remaining 77 seats.  Note that the OAS did not perform a recount of the legislative elections, and the report avoided any recommendations despite the widely held view that the legislative elections were even subjected to more fraud and manipulation than the presidential elections.  Setting aside the fact that these recommendations completely forgive the massive and blatant fraud of the Legislative elections, the solution leaves the job undone and the opening for further political chaos for three reasons:

1.     Preval’s Departure Remains Undecided:  There has been no announcement regarding the process after the end of President Preval’s term on Monday, February 7.  The constitution in article 134.3 is clear “Le Président de la République ne peut bénéficier de prolongation de mandat.” Which is “ The President of the Republic cannot beneficiate on any prolongation of his term” Preval has illegally extended his term by using the legislature to pass an illegal decree allowing him to stay in office until May 14 or until new elections are organized. None of the political actors will allow him to extend his term if he tries to stand by this decree and remain in office.  The constitution is the law of the land no other law can’t trump it. Therefore when the President term end the constitution triggered a mechanism that will allow his quick replacement. Article 149 of the Haitian Constitution will be likely invoked allowing a Justice of the Supreme Court to lead a provisional government.  Ambassador Keneth Merten stated that the Haitian political actors will come to resolution on how to interpret the Constitution regarding this end date, but there is no interpretation.  The process is quite clear:  his term is legally over on February 7 (see:  Washington post response ).

2.     No Consensus on Mandate for Provisional Government:  This is potentially the most politically explosive issue and leaves the door open to undermine the whole “political solution” and plunge Haiti back into political chaos and turmoil.  There are three groups of actors who will have competing political agendas for the provisional government.

     First, Preval and the INITE Party will seek to put a partisan judge in charge allowing them to continue business as usual and steal the remaining legislative seats.

     Second, the democratic opposition is comprised of two groups who will seek different outcomes.  The first group is made up of the presidential run-off candidates and civil society organizations, which want the run off election to proceed, but have called for the annulment for the legislative elections.  The second group is made up of the 12 presidential candidates who denounced the elections after the first round, and the democratic parties that boycotted the elections.  This second group will seek to have an impartial judge as the provisional president and to have the November 28 elections annulled.  Both groups agree upon the need to resolve several issues that led to the electoral irregularities, including reorganizing the partisan CEP, the appointment of impartial poll workers and cleaning the voter registration lists.

    And third, the supporters of former President Jean Bertrand Aristide who want to undermine the whole process and create chaos in order to provide an opening for Aristide’s return.  This Aristide camp will likely resort to violence.  In 2004, this is the group that launched Operation Baghdad I & II (see:  ) that resulted in 1,941 people murdered, and the kidnapping of more than 800 innocent citizens – among them 109 police officers.  For the past two weeks, operatives of this group have murdered 12 policemen.  Haitians are worried that this is the beginning Aristide’s Operation Bagdad III.

Most disturbingly, certain members of the international community support the return of Aristide and may throw their resource behind restoring Aristide to power (see: ). For example, the United Nations has offered to help the Haitian Government try former Haitian dictator Jean Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier (see: ) which is a solution that neglects to account for the potential return of Aristide.  If the UN were being impartial, they would instead offer to work with the Haitian Government to develop a framework to try Haiti’s strongmen – Duvalier, Aristide and Preval – who are exploiting the chaos to continue their corrupt agendas in Haiti
    Clik on image to enlarge

3.     No Provision to Address Key Irregularities with the November Elections in the Run Offs:  President Preval was able to partially pull off his electoral coup by having a partisan CEP in charge of the process, appointing partisan poll workers and local election officials, and manipulate the voter lists (see: ).  In the November elections, the voter lists had been tampered with to prevent voters from voting.  On Election Day, approximately 40% of the voters returned home unable to vote after waiting seven hours on line to learn that their names did not appear on the voter lists.  INITE needed a low turnout to manipulate the tally sheets and the final results, so they rigged the voter lists.  None of these issues have been addressed for the run offs.  Isn’t the definition of insanity doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results?

None of these critical issues have been addressed.  In essence, this solution just buys time for Preval, Duvalier and Aristide to jockey for power.  And once again, the Haitian people will suffer.  The democratic opposition – knowing they do not have the support of the international community in any capacity beyond lip service – are left with no option but to pursue the run offs.  They sense it is the only opportunity available to remove Preval’s corrupt regime from power, but know that they have their work cut out for them with the provisional government and the organization of the run offs.  This solution has very little going for it.  It leaves all the hard work undone.  It has the potential to unravel at so many turns.  Meanwhile, reconstruction is stalled, and the pledged aid money remains on the sidelines. 

If there is one thing history has taught us it is that the Haitian people will never accept strongmen or the imposition of flawed elections.  However, this process can still be salvaged and political chaos can be avoided, but it will take some political chops:

·      Preval should leave on February 7 putting in place a consensus justice of the Supreme Court (Cour de Cassation) to manage the provisional government. 

·      A new CEP should be put in place – this one has no confidence – to manage the presidential political run offs, and entirely new legislative elections should be organized in three to four months time.  This would diffuse all the potential hotspots and build confidence in the electoral process. 

·      We need to also address another serious political hotspot before it gets out of control:  how to deal with Haiti’s strongmen.  With the return of Duvalier, potential return of Aristide, and the departure of Preval, the international community should work with Haiti to help put in place the judicial framework to try these strongmen.  However, the UN must account for serious partisanship in its ranks and exclude Dr. Paul Farmer, the UN Deputy Envoy for Haiti who signed a high profile ad in the Miami Herald supporting Aristide’s return, and Michelle Montas, former spokesperson of UN Secretary General.  Ms. Montas is Haitian and has a well known political agenda which would play into the decision to prosecute some and give others a pass. 

·      The reconstruction process needs to be reinvigorated.  The Haitian people have taken a backseat while all the electoral wrangling has diverted attention.  The focus should be on getting Haitians off the street and into permanent housing (see: ). 

·      And finally, we need to keep our eye on the upcoming hurricane season in June (four months away) and begin to organize an emergency preparedness campaign and put in place an emergency plan to deal with further natural disasters.  This process can move forward regardless of how the elections play out – and should be the focus of the government and the international community.

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.