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Friday, February 18, 2011

Haiti Runoff Electoral Update # 1 by Stanley Lucas

On November 28, Haiti organized an election for President, a third of the senate and 99 seats in the lower Chamber. The pre-electoral period was characterized by political manipulation of the electoral process by the ruling party INITE, a partisan Provisional Electoral Council (CEP), corruption, questionable technical assistance that led to organizational failures, and weak international electoral observation missions, for more see pre and post electoral updates:

Election day was characterized by blatant and universal efforts to rig the vote and various technical breakdowns at the local and national levels. As a result, 13 of the Presidential candidates called for the annulment of the elections. Despite calls for the annulment, the CEP went ahead with the ballot counting and in the process presided over the rigging and manipulation of tally sheets.  The following is a chronology of events immediately following the elections:

  • On December 6, the CEP completed the “counting” process. That day observers present at the tabulation center of the CEP took notes of the final results for President; it was understood that Mirlande Manigat and Michel Martelly qualified for the runoff.  Based on that information international news outlets broadcast those results.
  •   On December 7, the CEP – under the influence and direction of President Preval -- changed the results and put the ruling INITE party candidate, Jude Celestin, in the run off omitting Martelly. 
  •  At the same time, the Legislatives elections were subject to deeper manipulation. A revolt erupted around the country in the following days.  
  • On December 9 the OAS Electoral Mission outraged Haitians when they stated in a press conference that: “there were some problem on election day but the process was acceptable and sound”. The Secretary General of the United Nations had to subsequently issue a statement to calm the outraged Haitian voters saying that there were in fact serious problems with the process and they were bigger than previously evaluated.  
  •  Preval called on the OAS to recount the tally sheets for the president only (see:  ).  At the end of the process the OAS recommended that the results be corrected and that the ruling party candidate withdraw from the elections leaving Manigat and Martelly to participate in the run off.
  • Secretary of State Hillary Clinton went to Haiti to address the situation. No one knows the details of the conversation between her and Preval and Haiti’s political network -- even the US ambassador did not take part in those private discussions according to Haitian government sources.
  • Preval’s CEP then published the presidential “results” according to the OAS recommendations. The rigged legislative elections have not been addressed so essentially the ruling INITE party has been allowed to steal a number of seats. Emboldened by the inattention to the initial round of legislative elections, they are currently preparing to steal the remaining seats up for election in the runoff.
  •  Two of the losing Presidential candidates have contested the legality of the election results with the Haitian Attorney General’s Office.

Meanwhile former President-a-Vie Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier has been charged with economic and political crimes.  Ousted former President Jean Bertrand Aristide is trying to get back in country and will likely face charges for his political and economic crimes.

This is the context in which the OAS is calling on the CEP to move forward with the runoff.

The Provisional Electoral Council
Several members of the CEP have been found responsible for the manipulation of the results -- in favor of the ruling party -- at the Tabulation Center. Vice President Toussaint, Ginette Cherubin, Ribel Pierre, Gaillot Dorsinvil, and Director General Robert Opont appear to be the source of the manipulations. Michel Martelly called for their replacement and Mirlande Manigat requested change within the electoral machinery. The Haitian people have completely lost confidence in the CEP.

The CEP Director General Robert Opont, the CEP technical personnel working at the Tabulation Center and the leadership of the BED and BECs (the local election officials) have played a direct role in the manipulation of the tally sheets and elections results are still in place. None of them have been removed despite calls by the presidential candidates, Haitian civil society and the Diaspora. Every Haitian knows that the partisan CEP’s focus is to give Preval two-thirds of both chambers.

Haitians have become skeptical of the international community’s reaction to and leadership of the electoral process. To date, the OAS Electoral Observation Mission has refused to address the irregularities of the legislative elections despite numerous reports by domestic electoral observation groups documenting the fraud and violence.  Haitians believe that the international community struck a deal with Preval allowing him to steal the legislative elections in order to save face. The belief is that if this process moves forward without addressing legislative election results, there will likely be a huge political crisis in the months ahead. How do you explain to the people that voted for change that the ruling party stole (unchallenged) two-thirds of both legislative chambers?

Election Results
This is the first time in Haiti’s history that the CEP published results without listing the number of vote that each of the legislative candidates received. Even Haiti’s dictators used to take the time to publish fake results. The CEP published a list of 20 names of candidates that were “elected” in the first round for the House of Deputies (most from INITE) and four winning senate candidates (all INITE).

Only four of the eight CEP members signed the elections results; five signatures are required.  The CEP spokesperson was called to the Attorney General’s Office to answer questions about why results were published in the manner that violates the Electoral Law and voter and candidates’ constitutional rights. The next step is for the Attorney General to question members of the CEP. CEP President Gaillot Dorsinvil has expressed concern that he could be arrested at any moment.

Voter Lists
Most observers will agree that after the first round, the CEP manipulated the voter lists in order to prevent high voter turnout, which would be a negative for the ruling party candidate. On election day, voters stood in front of polling stations from 4:00 a.m. until noon and could not vote because their names were not on the voter registration list. An estimated 45-50% of the voters went back home after waiting six to seven hours. Many of those that finally found their names on the list learned that somebody from the ruling party had already voted for them. To date, the corrupt CEP has not taken any steps to correct the voter registration list. In fact, on February 15, the CEP has issued a communiqué (#70) that seems to suppress voter participation by stating that Article 32 of the Electoral Law says that registration of citizens should take place 60 days prior to elections. According to this timetable, no one will be able to register. In other words, the lists will not be corrected to allow disenfranchised voters to participate.

Tally Sheets
Domestic observers and International Observation Mission had shown exactly how the CEP manipulated the tally sheets at the Tabulation Center by comparing the duplicate (copy) of the tally sheet at the polling station with the original used at the Tabulation Center. For example, 18 votes noted at the polling stations were changed to 118 votes at the Tabulation Center. No steps have been taken to address this unsophisticated and blatant manipulation of the resuts.

The security situation has worsened. More than seven police officers have been murdered since the elections. According to witnesses who called into Haiti’s Radio Signal, it seems that in each case the police officers were specifically targeted.

Many are afraid that part of the Aristide network that used to target police and kidnap innocent Haitian citizens are reconstituting. From 2004 to 2006 Aristide ordered his gangs to kidnap and spread violence as part of a strategy to force his return. These groups killed 1,941 Haitian citizens, kidnapped 800, and raped 400 under a violent campaign known as “Operation Bagdad I” -- a similar number of people were brutalized under “Operation Bagdad II”. At that time with the same goal another Operation Pakatan’n (or Operation Can’t Wait) was launched by Amaral Duclona one of Aristide’s right hand men and resulted in the killing of dozens of citizens. (see:  1.  2. ).  It took three years for the police to disband and get rid of these gangs. Many citizens believe that the recent targeting of the police is linked to Aristide and this marks the beginning of Operation Bagdad III for the return of Aristide.

Political Parties, Haitian Senators and former Presidential Candidates
A coalition of political parties – some boycotted and others participated in the process – have called for the annulment of the elections and the application of Article 149 of the constitution, which would replace President Preval with a Supreme Court Justice.  They assert that Preval’s term legally ended on February 7.  This coalition is comprised of Altenativ, Rasanble, Liberasyon , UCADDE, Lavalas and several Haitian senators.  The 12 presidential candidates who each won 1% of the vote are also calling for the annulment of the elections. This coalition is organizing protests around the country that so far are not having any traction.

Civil Society
Civil society organizations have accepted the run-off solution to the rigged presidential elections. Haitian civil society continues express outrage for the manipulation of the legislative results though. They are calling for the verification and comparison of the polling station tally sheets with the ones used at the Tabulation Center for both the Deputy and Senate candidates.

Preval Term Illegally Extended
Preval’s Constitutional Term ended on February 7, 2011.  Rene Preval has stated that he will remain in office until a newly elected president is sworn in. He has passed a law to extend his term in office until May 14.  For Haitians this law is unconstitutional, but because of the division of the opposition -- and in the interest of stability -- Rene Preval has been given a pass. We have witnessed over the past few weeks the disastrous consequences of prioritizing stability over democracy, however.

OAS Electoral Observation Mission
The OAS observation Mission (EO) needs new leadership. In the eyes of the Haitian people, this mission has not contributed to a free and fair electoral process.  On the contrary, they have made things worse. The Mission demonstrated that it was incompetent and inefficient time and time again.  After the fiasco of November 28, the OAS EO stated that the elections were acceptable to them and needed to retract those statements later. While observations have a key role to play in ensuring free and fair elections, the OAS needs to regain credibility by, at a minimum, replacing the leadership of that mission.

MINUSTAH, Elections, Cholera
As a Mission, MINUSTAH has failed the Haitian people. From the mismanagement of the earthquake, to the strengthening of democratic institutions, through the assistance provided for the elections and the spreading of the cholera, the leadership of the Mission has shown incompetency. While there has been modest progress with their efforts to strengthen the Haitian National Police, MINUSTAH has little else to show for the US$4 billion spent from 2004 to 2010, and does not merit the $864 million requested for 2010-11.

The countries contributing to this Mission, including the U.S. taxpayers, deserve a more productive use of their money. Cholera continues to kill Haitian citizens. There are approximately 7,500 dead and 130.000 contaminated. There seems to be no clear strategy on how to address the epidemic that is killing Haitians at an alarming rate. The evidence presented by the US CDC pinpointing the cholera bacteria to a strain from South Asia combined with the French report concluding the Nepalese soldiers as the source of the outbreak, should be enough to establish MINUSTAH as the source of the epidemic. The UN has denied these claims and has appointed UN personnel to investigate the source of the epidemic (judge and jury). This failure to address the situation will continue to undermine the credibility of MINUSTAH in the eyes of the Haitian people and the Diaspora. Many Haitians expected help from the Obama Administration in order to establish the United Nations responsibility in the cholera epidemic and have them support the cholera recovery in the same way he held BP responsible for the oil clean up. Cholera is not only killing people, it is having a negative impact on the consumption of local rice and vegetables because they are grown on the river that was the source of the cholera epidemic.  People are afraid to buy those products.

Reconstruction is stalled. Haitians are upset at the Haiti Interim Reconstruction Commission (HIRC) led by former President Clinton and Prime Minister Bellerive. The 12 Haitian members of that commission have public decried the fact that all the contracts are allocated to foreign friends and companies, and they are used merely as rubber stamps for decisions (see: ). Many Haitians hope that structure will be addressed for a lack of results and will in the future include greater Haitian input (from Ministers and the Haitian business sectors) and will be more inclusive.

Haiti’s Strongmen
The return of former dictator Jean Claude Duvalier and the potential return of former dictator Jean Bertrand Aristide is a threat to Haiti’s political stability and the rule of law.  Both strongmen have records of political and economic crimes in Haiti. Aristide and Duvalier both have a myriad of U.S. lawyers and lobbyists advocating for them in the United States and the international media in order to silence Haitian voices calling for justice.

Duvalier has hired former US Congressman Bob Barr and others to defend him and promote his reconciliation propaganda on the international scene, see: . While Aristide continues to leverage ideology (casting himself as a victim of US imperialism) to hide his political and economic crimes by using lobbyists, lawyers, see: , ideological actors, and former US government officials to call for his immediate return, see: . He made most of these people millionaires by granting them access to sweetheart deals and lucrative retainers.  Members of this network include: Ira Kurzban, Brian Concannon, Randall Robinson, and others. He has also brought to the table some new American political figures like Reverend Jeremiah Wright to advance his case as a victim of US imperialism. For Haitians it’s about political assassination, kidnappings, corruption, drug trafficking, and embezzlement. Haitians want justice brought to Duvalier, Aristide and Preval for their crimes, for more see:

Launching Runoff Campaigns
On February 17, Manigat and Martelly launched their campaign for the runoff. Manigat chose to hold a press conference focusing on issues and responding to questions about education and the fate of Haiti’s strongmen. Martelly took the road and opened his campaign in Cap Haitien, the second largest city of the country where thousands of youth attended in an environment of victory. During the week Wyclef Jean, a singer that failed to meet the requirements to run for president, endorsed Martelly. Polling showed that if elections were held today, Martelly would get 66% of the vote and Manigat 33%. The runoff campaign was launched without any efforts to address the manipulations of the legislative elections and without any effort to address the technical and political issues that were at the source of political instability after the first round.

There are a number of technical issues that should be addressed in order to avoid further political unrest and ensure a more democratic process in the run offs:

  • Partisan members of the CEP under investigation should be replaced immediately
  •  The Catholic Church should name its member to the CEP
  • The Director General and technical employees of the Tabulation Center should be replaced
  • Members of the BED and BECs should be replaced with nonpartisan actors
  • Voter registration list should be fixed
  • The tally sheets and results for the senate and deputy candidates should be reviewed for manipulation 
Additionally, there are number of critical political environment issues that should be addressed:

  • Security strategies should be reviewed and strengthened
  • Haiti Judicial System should indict the country’s strongmen
  • OAS Electoral Observation Mission should be revamped – replacing the leadership as a first step
  •  MINUSTAH’s leadership should be replaced
  •  An international independent panel to investigate and establish the source of the cholera epidemic should be appointed. This should include Haitian experts from abroad.