By Sir Ronald Sanders
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Friday June 10, 2016 – “International interests in Haiti, in addition to checking off an ‘elections done’ box, are largely defined by controlling emigration, maintaining stability, and managing poverty. The latter is approached either through the creation of low wage factory jobs or by channelling toward Haiti vast sums of international aid most of which are captured by national or international elites, with next to nothing ‘trickling down’ to those who really need it. As a result, the root causes of poverty are not being addressed, and inequality continues to plague Haiti’s citizens as lives once full of promise are wasted”.
That’s the observation of long-time analyst of Haitian affairs, Dr Robert Maguire, Professor of International Development Studies at George Washington University in the United States.
This statement by a respected and neutral US academic is important amid the dissonance that has emerged in the last few weeks from certain governments concerning the holding of Presidential and other elections in Haiti. Of special significance is Professor Maguire’s remark about “checking off an ‘elections done’ box”.
Haiti’s elections process has always been deficient. Shortcomings and fraud have underlined the imperative of reforming the system so that it truly reflects the will of the electorate. Election observer missions, largely sent by countries that have meddled in Haitian affairs, more in their own interest than in Haiti’s, have repeatedly stamped approval on elections with the objective of merely “checking the box”. They have failed to look beyond lines of voters at voting stations on polling day. But, elections are not determined only by incidents at the time of voting; grave irregularities and fraud occur at many stages in the process and they have fatal consequences on the result.
The entire electoral system requires fixing or no election will ever command the widespread approval that is necessary to imbue confidence in those that are elected. That, essentially, is the problem that Haiti faces now. And, those who are in a hurry to hold the elections on the basis of the first-round (held on October 25, 2015) which were found to be fatally flawed, may check the ‘elections box’, but they do neither Haiti nor themselves any good if that is all they do. If the current elections’ process were to proceed despite the widespread rejection of the first-round results, Haiti will continue to be unstable and unsettled. And that is good for no one.
In regretting the decision of the Haiti Provisional Electoral Commission to scrap the first-round elections and re-do them, the US State Department, through its spokesman, Mark Toner, said that “the Haitian people deserved to have their voices heard, not deferred.” However, the majority of stakeholders in Haiti, particularly the Elections Verification Commission (Cieve), do not believe that the Haitian people’s voices were heard. In the audit of 25 percent of almost 13,000 tally sheets from polling stations, that there were 628,000 untraceable or “Zombie” votes among other major irregularities. These are realities that should not be ignored, particularly by countries that base their foreign policies, in part, on principles of democracy, rights and the rule of law.
In this regard, the government of Canada was right to withdraw a request made to the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States (OAS) on June 6, for discussion of a proposed declaration on “The Electoral Process in Haiti”. The proposed declaration did not take account of the findings of Cieve, and it did not await the anticipated announcement, on the same day, by the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) on the roll-out of a time-table for fresh elections.
As it turned out, the CEP set out clear time tables for elections for the President, the remaining representatives for the National Assembly and municipal elections. There was no effort to renege on that obligation or to obscure it.
The OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro rightly welcomed the publication of the Haitian electoral calendar set for Presidential elections on October 9, 2016, and January 8, 2017. Importantly, he recognized the process “as an inclusive effort by all political parties, institutions and civil society in Haiti to overcome the political impasse”. He also made it clear that “it is essential for Haiti to return to elected governance”. The restaging of the elections “would further strengthen the democratic process and allow Haitians to elect officials, including the President”. In this context, he pledged that the Secretariat “will continue to play a positive role in the electoral process”.
The Secretary-General’s commitment to keep the OAS Secretariat engaged in the electoral process is important. The elections will cost tens of millions of dollars. While the government of Haiti can pay some of it, funds and technical assistance will have to be come from donor countries. The OAS has the capacity to convene meetings with the United Nations and other organizations to raise the necessary money for the conduct of elections that can be accepted by the majority of Haitians as genuinely free and fair.
There is a further and immediate problem. The February 5th agreement that I witnessed as head of a Special OAS Mission of very capable people, settled the immediate constitutional and political impasse and arguably saved Haiti from the consequences of incalculable civil strife. That agreement set June 14 as an end date for an interim President, elected by the National Assembly. The expiry date is imminent and the National Assembly must make a decision by then to either extend the term of the interim President Jocelerme Privert and his appointed government or elect a new regime.
The negotiations between the stakeholders in the Assembly have been on-going; they are unlikely to be settled until the last minute. There are no pure angels in all this. As detractors of fresh elections have been anxious to point out many players have a dark past. But, whatever the settlement is, it is vital that it should be an arrangement reached by Haitians and not imposed or coerced by outsiders with a vested interest.
What the international community should do is insist that recommendations of previous Elections Observer Missions be implemented as a strict condition of financial support for the electoral process, and that observation should be staged on a continuous basis and not only in the days running up to the elections. Give the people of Haiti a real chance to be heard.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Sir Ronald Sanders, Antigua and Barbuda’s Ambassador to the US and OAS, and Senior Fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, London University and Massey College, Toronto University.