HaitiHaiti: Relief and Reconstruction Watch is a blog that tracks multinational aid efforts in Haiti with an eye towards ensuring they are oriented towards the needs of the Haitian people, and that aid is not used to undermine Haitians' right to self-determination.

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Ever since the first democratic elections in 1990, the influence of foreign actors over Haiti’s political process has only increased. Foreign donors have financed Haitian elections, UN troops have transported ballots and guarded polling stations, international observers have granted (or withheld) legitimacy to electoral outcomes, and foreign embassies have intervened when postelectoral crises erupt. Due to this preponderant role played in elections, the so-called international community ― the polite term for the dominant powers, organized now as the Core Group ― has often had the last word in Haitian politics.

This state of affairs has engendered even greater distrust in the political process. Sensing that it was not voters but foreign diplomats who decided who could be president, Haitians’ participation in elections has plummeted, from greater than 50 percent participation a decade ago to only about 25 percent last year. But with the developments over the past year and a half, that cycle looked to be breaking down.

The decision of the Haitian authorities, with the support of civil society, to rerun the election was a huge blow to the US and its allies in the international community. The Core Group (which brings together the ambassadors of the US, Canada, France, Brazil, Spain, the European Union, and the special representatives of the Organization of American States and the secretary general of the United Nations) had vigorously opposed calls for a verification commission and the formation of a transitional government after the October 25, 2015 elections. Many advocated for a continuation of last year’s vote, despite the protests of political actors and civil society, and the boycott of second-place finisher Jude Celestin. As Haiti expert Robert Maguire noted at the time, “the objective seems simply to be able to check an ‘elections done’ box.”

The US and the Core Group was also worried that new elections might give the Lavalas-aligned candidates (Maryse Narcisse and Moïse Jean-Charles) a better chance at the presidency. “They're not thrilled with Aristide’s forces coming back,” a US congressional source told Reuters regarding the Obama administration’s reaction to the antifraud protests. Another concern for the Obama administration was keeping Haiti ― where Hillary Clinton had developed a negative reputation ― out of the headlines during the US presidential campaign.

An organized and mobilized civil society rejected the dictates of the foreign actors and the interim government that took over when former president Martelly’s term expired responded to these demands. Confronted by this stunning development, European Union observers pulled out of the country after the decision to rerun the presidential election. The US withdrew $2 million in funding that remained in a UN-managed election basket fund and, with Canada, pledged not to provide additional money for this year’s election. Foreign aid was reduced over the last year, with many embassies refusing to attend meetings with the provisional president, or even go to the National Palace over the last nine months.

Read Part 1: Timeline of Key Events, here.
Read Part 2: Presidential Candidates and Their Parties, here.
Read Part 3: The Parliament, here

The devastating passage of hurricane Matthew has changed the dynamics of the upcoming election in Haiti. Following last year’s fraudulent elections, the new electoral council has been making changes in order to produce a more legitimate outcome this year, but the hurricane has raised new concerns.

A significant number of voting centers in the affected area have been destroyed or damaged. Many are also being used as temporary shelters. Efforts have been ongoing to repair or set up tents to replace voting centers, and the electoral council has stated that 80 percent of damaged voting centers have been repaired, and that all are able to be reached. However, the true test will come Sunday.

Additionally, many communities remain almost completely out of contact and unable to be reached. Electoral materials have been distributed throughout the country, but there is a high probability of delays on Sunday morning in some hard-to-reach areas. Damage to infrastructure, and ongoing flooding in parts of the country could also dissuade voters from going to the polls. Turnout ― which has already reached abysmal levels in recent elections ― will be a key indicator.

Many voters also lost their identity cards in the storm. Though it is unclear how many Haitians were impacted, and the government has pledged to provide new cards to those in need, the full scale of the problem is still unknown. The government agency responsible for providing the ID cards said last week that only 2,000 new cards have been requested, indicating that many may simply be dealing with basic necessities like having a roof over one’s head or securing food, rather than voting. This has created uncertainty around the ability of Haitians in the southern peninsula to exercise their democratic rights. 

Beyond the technical problems that have been created by the hurricane, there are severe humanitarian issues. Hundreds of thousands across the southern peninsula have been left with no homes, no crops and no safe water. Relief efforts are ongoing, but have been inadequate to address the many needs. Is it simply too soon to ask the Haitian people most impacted by this storm to think about an election?

Between 10 and 15 percent of registered voters reside in the storm-ravaged southern peninsula, and many more in the northern departments that have more recently been affected by heavy rains and flooding. It is clear the election in these areas will be significantly impacted, and many will be disenfranchised. It’s also possible that with lower turnout in more rural provinces, it will be, more than ever, Port-au-Prince determining who the next president will be.

This is likely to reinforce centralization in the “republic of Port-au-Prince”, further isolating rural provinces and towns that have long felt disconnected from the political and economic elite in the country’s capital.

Read Part 1: Timeline of Key Events, here

Read Part 2: Presidential Candidates and Their Parties, here

Often lost in the discussion of Haiti’s presidential race is the fact that many legislative seats are up for grabs as well, including more than half of the Senate. Currently, the parliament is pretty evenly split between political factions but with such a high number of seats left to be decided the balance of power could shift dramatically this weekend. Control of the legislative body is especially important in Haiti’s political system, where it is parliament that approves the new prime minister and government program.

The presidential election was scheduled to coincide with the expiration of one-third of the Senate. Ten Senators had been elected to six-year terms in 2010, so ten first-round races for senate seats will be conducted on November 20. Six second-round Senate races and two dozen second-round races for Deputy will be held as well. The second-round races are the continuation of last year’s fraud- and violence-plagued elections.

For the ten first-round senate elections (one in each department), 149 candidates have registered, coming from 43 different political parties. Interestingly, it is Fanmi Lavalas and Pitit Dessalines who have registered the most candidates of the four major presidential parties with 10 and 9 respectively. With candidates competing in all ten departments, it could bolster rural votes at the presidential level. PHTK and LAPEH, on the other hand, have registered 7 and 6 candidates respectively.

For the second-round senate races still to be competed, parties allied with PHTK make up the majority of candidates. Due to high levels of fraud and violence in the August 9, 2015 legislative election, first-round reruns were conducted for these races in 3 departments (Center, Grand Anse and Nord) last October. Nine of the 12 Senatorial candidates participating in this Sunday’s second round are from PHTK, Bouclier and Consortium (all allies) while no other party has more than one candidate. With two senators being elected from each of these races, PHTK and its allies are guaranteed at least one additional seat in each department.

At the deputy level, there are 25 second-round races that will be completed on Sunday. Again, it is PHTK and allied parties that make up the largest number of candidates, accounting for 40 percent overall, putting them in a good position to pick up seats in the lower chamber. The number of races, broken down by department is as follows: West (6), North (6), Artibonite (4), Center (2), Grand’Anse (2), South-East (2), South (2) and North-West (1).

Read Part 1: Timeline of Key Events, here.

In a crowded field of 54 presidential candidates, the top two finishers in last year’s elections were Jovenel Moïse (PHTK) and Jude Celestin (LAPEH). Third and fourth were Moïse Jean-Charles (Platfom Pitit Dessalines) and Maryse Narcisse (Fanmi Lavalas). Although the earlier vote was plagued by fraud and irregularities and the results were eventually discarded, the top four finishers on October 25, 2015 are expected to lead the pack of 27 candidates participating on Sunday, November 20. Here is a closer look at the principal candidates heading into this weekend’s election:

Jovenel Moïse is PHTK’s candidate. Prior to the 2015 elections when former President Martelly selected Moïse as his successor, the lanky agricultural businessman from the North was a political unknown. Moïse’s company Agritrans runs a banana plantation primarily for export in Trou-du-Nord and was set up with government financing under Martelly’s administration. During the campaign, Moïse has branded himself as “The Banana Man” (Nèg Bannann Nan). He promises to revitalize Haiti’s neglected agriculture and to remobilize Haiti’s military, which was disbanded in 1995.

While in office, Martelly campaigned aggressively for Moïse and was accused of using state resources to promote his party’s candidate. For this reason, Moïse was perceived by many as a weak Martelly surrogate. One irony of the long delay since last year’s vote is that PHTK’s Moïse may actually be in a better position now. Time has allowed him to step out from under Martelly’s shadow, posing as an opponent to the provisional government rather than the ruling party’s candidate. PHTK and its political allies in the parliament have accused the interim government and the CEP of being biased in favor of “Lavalas” and claimed that the elections may be rigged against them. They have also consistently questioned the legitimacy of the provisional president, even at one point calling on police officers to disobey orders.

After the Hurricane, PHTK leaders threatened the provisional government with street protests and legislative action if elections were not held within weeks of the storm and have been publicizing polling (notoriously suspect in Haiti) that shows Jovenel Moïse with the highest level of support among presidential candidates.

Haiti’s interminable election cycle has depleted the finances of many parties, but although PHTK is facing similar problems, they are likely the party with the deepest pockets. With greater access to resources, the party was able to continue to campaign - including in the hurricane-hit south where Moïse distributed aid to victims. Well-financed and with a cadre of international election advisors, PHTK has many factors working in their favor.

In their quest for the presidency, PHTK has allied with local politicians that, in some cases, have been tied to corruption, drug trafficking and other wrongdoing. Though the campaign has distanced itself from Martelly, there is lingering dissatisfaction with the previous government, bolstered by recent allegations of corruption, which could weigh on voter’s minds Sunday.

Jude Celestin, the second-place finisher in last year’s election and the leading figure in the boycott movement, is the candidate of Ligue alternative pour le progrès et l'émancipation haïtienne (LAPEH). In the 2010 election, Celestin competed under the banner of INITE, the party of then-president René Préval. Those elections were also plagued by widespread fraud, violence and irregularities, many stemming from the fact that elections were held in the same year as the devastating 2010 earthquake that killed hundreds of thousands and left more than a million displaced. An Organization of American States (OAS) commission recommended changing the results, removing Celestin from the race and replacing him with Michel Martelly, without providing evidence that Martelly had actually received more votes than Celestin. The US then issued diplomatic threats, including a possible cut off of desperately needed post-earthquake aid, in order force the Haitian government to accept the changes.

Many expected Celestin to eventually call off the boycott and participate in last year’s second-round election, but his position was unwavering and led to the cancellation of the election. His supporters consider him a savior for preventing the fraudulent elections from standing; adversaries see him as the primary cause of the political instability of the last year. After 2010 and his role in cancelling last year’s election, Celestin hasn’t made many friends in the international community, though many close to him have worked over the last year to reestablish a relationship.

Celestin has championed his boycott’s role in getting the rerun, and has pointed to his experience at CNE, the national construction company, to present himself as a builder who knows how to get things done. After the Hurricane, Celestin offered to rebuild a key bridge and construction equipment was seen plastered with his campaign image.

With the provisional president Privert coming from an allied political party, Celestin is perceived to have benefitted from the change in leadership. But it is important to note that the interim government consists of politicians from many different movements and it would be a mistake to think all, or even most, are willing or able to help his campaign.

Still Celestin, similar to PHTK, has received significant private sector backing and can likely count on support from those sectors that have historically been allied with President Préval, giving him a political machine that should be able to generate votes on election day. Still, it is interesting to note that of the three former presidents currently active in politics, Préval is the only one to not openly endorse a candidate. University professor Jacky Lumarque was Préval’s chosen candidate, but was excluded from participating by the previous electoral council under Martelly.

Moïse Jean-Charles, a former Senator from the North department, finished third in last year’s election and is once again expected to be a top vote getter. Jean-Charles was the leading opposition voice against the former Martelly government and led street protests against his rule. Jean-Charles joined Celestin in rejecting last year’s election results and initially supported the interim government and the decision to rerun the elections from scratch.

More recently, however, Pitit Dessalines has struck a similar tone as the other leading candidates in calling for elections to be held as soon as possible after hurricane Matthew.  The party has also expressed discontent with the electoral apparatus and interim government and called for greater transparency, especially in the vote counting process.

Less than a week from now, on November 20, Haiti heads to the polls to choose a new president as well as dozens of legislative seats. The electoral process started in 2015 but has been repeatedly delayed and postponed due to post-election protests, candidates’ boycotts, and more recently Hurricane Matthew. The results of last October’s first-round presidential election were thrown out on the recommendation of an independent investigative commission that identified significant levels of fraud and other irregularities. Below is a timeline that traces the major events of Haiti’s extended electoral saga:

December 2014 - January 2015: Protests force Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe to step down as the terms of many parliamentarians expire. President Michel Martelly’s government had not held elections for its first four years in office, allowing the president to begin ruling by decree. A new Prime Minister and CEP are appointed, tasked with organizing the legislative and presidential votes.

August 9, 2015: First-round legislative elections are so marred by violence and fraud that many races cannot be completed and must be re-run again in about a quarter of constituencies.

October 25, 2015: The first-round presidential election is held, alongside legislative reruns as well as legislative second-round elections in some localities. The elections are rejected by a growing opposition movement that alleges widespread fraud on behalf of the ruling party and its candidate, Jovenel Moise of the Parti Haïtien Tèt Kale (PHTK), who came in first according to the official results.

December 17, 2015: Facing increasing criticism ahead of the planned December 27 runoff, president Martelly announces a commission to investigate the elections. Given just a few days to perform its work, the commission finds significant problems and makes a number of recommendations for moving the electoral process forward.

December 21, 2015: The scheduled runoff election is postponed. Before the commission’s recommendations can be adopted, a new runoff is scheduled for January 24.

January 11, 2016: Despite growing concerns about fraud-tainted electoral results, a partial legislature is seated, consisting of 92 newly-elected deputies and 24 senators. Races for 6 senators and 26 deputies remain incomplete.

January 22, 2016: The second-round presidential and legislative elections are indefinitely called off. Second-place finisher Jude Celestin (LAPEH) had pledged to boycott the second-round and was joined by seven other opposition presidential candidates. This stance was supported by the vast majority of civil society organizations, including human rights groups, church leaders and eventually even the private sector business associations.

February 5, 2016: With Martelly’s term expiring on February 7 and no elected successor to take his place, an agreement is reached to form a transitional government. Senator Jocelerme Privert is soon after selected as interim president and given a mandate of 120 days. The deal dissipated tensions that had been rising due to concerns that Martelly would try to hold on to power. Armed paramilitaries had appeared in Port-au-Prince and clashed with Martelly opponents.

April 30, 2016: President Privert establishes an independent investigation commission to examine fraud claims and restore confidence in the electoral process before continuing with the vote. This decision is opposed by PHTK and its political allies – who are well represented in the recently-seated parliament – as well as many actors in the international community, including the European Union (EU) and the United States.

June 6, 2016: The independent commission recommends rerunning the first round presidential vote and a new electoral council announces new first-round elections scheduled for October 9, 2016. The EU observation team pulls out of the country and the US pulls funding from the election after the decision.

June 14, 2016: The interim president’s mandate expires, but parliament is unable to reach a quorum to either replace the leader or extend his term due to obstruction by the pro-PHTK bloc. Privert’s opponents refuse to recognize him as a legitimate leader and question each decision made by the interim authorities, accusing them of simply wanting to perpetuate themselves in power.

Oct 4-5, 2016: Hurricane Matthew, a category 4 storm, ravages the country – specifically the southern peninsula – just days before the new elections were set to take place. The election was once again postponed. One week before the scheduled October 9 vote, prospects for the vote were hopeful. Preparations were in place, electoral materials had arrived in country and were being prepared for distribution, new safeguards against fraud and abuse had been implemented and candidates had taken to the campaign trail.

Oct 14, 2016: Facing immense pressure from political actors to hold the election as soon as possible, the CEP issues a new electoral schedule calling for elections November 20. Electoral infrastructure, especially in the southern peninsula, is severely damaged with many voting centers being used as temporary shelters. The new date means that there will not be an elected president in office by February 7, as initially expected.

However with a dire humanitarian situation still raging in the southern peninsula, electoral infrastructure severely damaged and ongoing flooding in various parts of the country, skepticism remains high as to if a legitimate and free election is possible this weekend, or if it will be another blow to Haiti’s fragile democracy.

Up next, Haiti Election Primer, Part 2: The Parties, Parliament and the International Community

On October 10, less than a week after Hurricane Matthew ripped across Haiti, the United Nations launched an emergency appeal for $120 million. Ten days later, donors have failed to fill the need, contributing just over 20 percent of the funds deemed necessary. But whom is the money being raised for? What planning or coordination went in to the $120 million ask? Are donors right to be hesitant?

An analysis of UN Financial Tracking Service data shows that the vast majority of the funds raised are destined for UN agencies or large, international NGOs. Reading press releases, government statements and comments to the press, it would seem that many lessons have been learned after the devastating earthquake of 2010: the importance of coordinating with the government, of working with local institutions and organizations, of purchasing goods locally and of building long-term sustainability in to an emergency response.

But, as one Haitian government official posed it to me, “we all learned the lessons, but have we found a solution?” Based on the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) appeal, the answer is not yet.

Perhaps this should be of little surprise, the flash appeal is designed specifically to “fund United Nations aid activities” for the next three months, not to raise money for local organizations, the Haitian government or for long-term, sustainable projects.  But the analysis is nonetheless revealing.

Funding Destined for UN and Foreign NGOs

The appeal is largely based on individual projects from individual organizations, and does not appear to have been launched with input from the Haitian government. As can be seen below, the vast majority of funding is destined for UN agencies.

Table 1.

OCHA Appeal UN Agency 2

Looking at the above chart, one sees that 85 percent of the funding requested is for the UN’s own agencies and that, of the $28 million provided so far, 79 percent has gone to these same entities.

Of the remaining $17 million for other organizations, it is overwhelmingly allocated to large foreign NGOs such as CARE and Save the Children. Haitian organizations or institutions appear to have an extremely limited role in the appeal, if one at all.

Importance of Coordination and Long-Term Sustainability

There has also been an acknowledgement that more must be done to both coordinate with the Haitian government and the various actors on the ground and to focus earlier on in building long-term capacity. But the OCHA appeal does not have an emphasis on either.

Table 2.

OCHA Appeal Sector

As can be seen, about 50 percent of the total requirement is for the food security, nutrition and emergency agriculture sector. There is no doubt that agriculture production and food security are some of the largest concerns going forward, but most of these funds, $46 million, is for short-term food assistance through the World Food Program (WFP). On the other hand, just $9 million will go towards “restoration” of “rural productive capacity.” The WFP program has already received $7.4 million, while the restoration project has only received $800,000.

Port-au-Prince, Haiti ― Under the leadership of an interim government since February, Haiti will now wait a little longer to elect a president after Hurricane Matthew struck the island, with 130 mile-per-hour winds and up to two feet of rain last week. Elections scheduled for October 9 have been put on hold, with Haiti’s provision electoral council (CEP) expected to announce a new date on Friday.

As the scale of the damage becomes clearer in Haiti’s rural Tiburon peninsula, where entire communities were left destroyed and under water, negotiations are ongoing in the relatively unscathed capital of Port-au-Prince, where political and economic power has long resided. Pressure is building on Haiti’s besieged interim president Jocelerme Privert to hold the elections in the coming weeks, but an internal assessment of electoral infrastructure obtained by Haiti: Relief and Reconstruction Watch reveals massive damage to voting centers throughout the hardest-hit departments.

Some 30 percent of voting centers remained inaccessible in the most impacted areas according to the report compiled by the Organization of American States (OAS), while of those that were visited, 70 percent were rendered inoperable. The storm-ravaged departments are home to roughly one million of Haiti’s approximately 5.9 million registered voters. Across the country, meanwhile, the government estimates 1.4 million people to be in need of humanitarian assistance.

The CEP met with political parties Monday and has also met with representatives from the international community, Haitian civil society and the government this week. Mathias Pierre, a representative of Platfòm Pitit Dessalines, whose presidential candidate is former Senator Moïse Jean Charles, said that political parties had agreed on October 30 for the new date. But no official decision has been made, as the CEP continues to search for consensus.

En français

“The situation cannot afford Washington to sit on sidelines. They elected him and they need [sic] pressure him. He can't go unchecked,” Laura Graham, then the Chief Operating Officer of the Clinton Foundation, wrote to Bill Clinton in early 2012. Graham was referring to the increasingly erratic, and potentially dangerous, behavior of Haitian president Michel Martelly. When she said “They elected him,” she was referring to the US government, which intervened through the OAS to change the election results of the first round of Haiti, putting Martelly in to the second round. The e-mail, one of many Graham sent to Bill Clinton’s deputy chief of staff on February 26, 2012, eventually was sent to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her top aide, Cheryl Mills. The note is perhaps the clearest evidence to date that key officials, even within the Clinton camp, viewed the US intervention in the 2010 Haitian election as decisive.

The 2010 Haitian election was a mess. Held less than a year after a devastating earthquake, millions of people were displaced or otherwise disenfranchised and then-president René Préval was accused of fraud on behalf of his preferred candidate Jude Célestin. A majority of candidates held an afternoon press conference on election day denouncing the process and calling for new elections. But Washington and its allies, who had funded the election, pushed forward, telling the press that everything was okay. Mirlande Manigat, a constitutional law professor and former first lady, and Célestin came in first and second, respectively, according to preliminary results, putting them into a scheduled run-off. Martelly was in third, a few thousand votes behind.

Protests engulfed the capital and other major cities, threatening the political stability that donors have long desired, but have failed to nurture. With billions in foreign aid on the table and Bill Clinton overseeing an international effort at “building back better,” there was a lot on the line: both money and credibility.

With Martelly’s supporters leading large, and at times violent, protests, the US turned up the heat by publicly questioning the results just hours after they were announced. Within 24 hours, top State Department officials were already discussing with Haitian private sector groups plans to force Célestin out of the race. “[P]rivate sector have told RP [René Préval] that Célestin should withdraw … This is big,” then US Ambassador to Haiti Ken Merten wrote the next day. Merten wrote that he had personally contacted Martelly’s “camp” and told them that he needs to “get on radio telling people to not pillage. Peaceful demo OK: pillage is not.” Unfortunately, much of Merten’s message and those in response have been redacted.

The Haitian government eventually requested that a mission from the Organization of American States (OAS) come to Haiti to analyze the results. The mission, despite not conducting a recount or any statistical test, recommended replacing Célestin in the runoff with Martelly.  With the lowest turnout for a presidential election in the hemisphere’s recent history, and at least 12 percent of the votes simply missing, any decision on who should be in a second round would be based on faulty assumptions. (CEPR analyzed all the voter tally sheets at the time, conducting a statistical analysis of the vote, and later showed how the OAS recommendation could not be supported by any statistical evidence.)

Nevertheless, pressure began to mount on the Haitian government to accept the OAS recommendations. Officials had their US visas revoked and US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice even went so far as to threaten to cut aid, even though the country was still recovering from the devastating earthquake earlier in the year.

In late January 2011, two months after the elections, but before any decision had been made, Laura Graham wrote to top Hillary Clinton aide Cheryl Mills, warning that her boss, Bill Clinton [wjc] would be very upset if certain visas were pulled:

There are rumors abt ur second visa list and jmb [Prime Minister and co-chair of the Clinton-led reconstruction commission, Jean Max Bellerive] being on it. He's a conflicted guy and is being pressured on both sides and we believe trying to help. Wjc will be v unhappy if that's the case. Nor do I think u need remove his visa. Not sure what it gets u. Remove elizabeth's [Préval’s wife] and prevals people. I'm also staying at his house fyi so exposure in general and this weekend in particular for wjc on this.

In response, Mills questioned the “message it sends” for Graham to stay at Bellerive’s house, but Graham replied, indicating a certain coordination between the Clinton Foundation and the State Department in influencing Haitian politics: “For the record, I discussed staying at his house w both u and wjc long ago and was told good strategic value and ive [sic] stayed there every time.”

Dismayed by the decision to rerun controversial and fraud-plagued presidential elections, the US State Department announced on Thursday a suspension of electoral assistance to Haiti. State Department spokesperson John Kirby said the decision was communicated to Haitian authorities last week, noting that the US “has provided over $30 million in assistance” for elections and that the move would allow the US “to maintain priority assistance” for ongoing projects.

Kirby added that “I don’t have a dollar figure in terms of this because it wasn’t funded, it wasn’t budgeted.” However multiple sources have confirmed that the U.S has withdrawn nearly $2 million already in a United Nations controlled fund for elections. Donor governments, as well as the Haitian state, had contributed to the fund. Prior to the US move, $8.2 million remained for elections.

The pulling of funds indicates the growing displeasure with Haitian authorities’ decision to rerun last year’s presidential elections.

“We’ve made no bones about the fact that we had concerns about the way the process was unfolding,” Kirby told reporters on Thursday. During a July 4 address, US Ambassador to Haiti Peter Mulrean was even clearer: “We had difficulty understanding the decision … to start the presidential election from scratch.”

According to University of Virginia professor Robert Fatton, the withdrawal may be the “typical punishment” for “feeling insulted by the decisions taken by the people in its so-called ‘backyard.’”

“We believe it’s the sound thing to do, the right thing to do, for the people of Haiti in the long term,” Kirby said about the suspension. The Haitian government and electoral authorities have previously indicated a desire to fund elections from its own coffers. 

“We already made ourselves clear: Haiti will make all effort to find the $55 million to do the elections,” presidential spokesman Serge Simon told the Miami Herald. “If no one comes to our assistance we will manage because the priority for us is the elections,” he added.

“Haiti organizing its own elections with its own funds is a very good thing,” Fatton said. While noting that it would not guarantee a cleaner election, Fatton continued “This new reality may finally compel Haitians to blame or congratulate themselves for the outcome, and it represents a small but important step in the country’s recovery of a modicum of its national sovereignty.”

Second-round presidential elections, scheduled for January, were scrapped amid allegations of fraud and increasing street protests. The handpicked successor to former president Michel Martelly had placed first, according to the since discarded results. The US, European Union, United Nations and other donors that make up the “Core Group” in Haiti all endorsed the results as credible.

With no president-elect waiting, Martelly stepped down when his term ended in February. The legislature elected a provisional president from the political opposition – Senator Jocelerme Privert.

Privert, with the strong backing of civil society organizations, local elections observers and a wide swath of the political spectrum, created a verification commission to audit the previous election. The five-member panel found evidence of “zombie votes” — representing hundreds of thousands of votes — as well as widespread irregularities and recommended tossing the results. Haiti’s electoral council, heeding the recommendations, scheduled new presidential elections for October.

European Union election observers, disagreeing vehemently with the decision, pulled out of the country. The Organization of American States (OAS), after initially backing the results, pledged to respect the Haitian-led verification process and new electoral calendar. However the US suspension of electoral assistance may impact the OAS’ ability to continue monitoring the electoral process.

The US provided $1 million to the OAS for its electoral observation mission last year.

Some have expressed concern that the US suspension of assistance could have greater ramifications for the electoral process. “The fact that the US is pulling $2 million from the ‘election basket’ may be a sign that it is prepared to delegitimize the forthcoming elections if the results do not coincide with its interests,” Fatton said.

Days before the June 14 end of provisional president Jocelerme Privert’s mandate, a coalition of political parties close to former president Michel Martelly formalized an alliance and began advocating for Privert’s removal. Led by former de facto prime minister under Marelly, Evans Paul, the “Entente Democratique” (ED) or “democratic agreement” as they have called themselves, have denounced the “totalitarian tendencies” of Privert and categorized the possible extension of his mandate as an illegal power grab.

Haitian parliamentarians were expected to vote earlier this week on extending or replacing Privert, who was appointed provisional president in early February after Martelly’s term ended with no elected replacement. The vote was delayed, as it has been previously.  

The creation of ED has formalized an alliance between Martelly’s political movement, PHTK, and Guy Philippe, a notorious paramilitary leader who is running for a seat in the Senate. Philippe was the head of a paramilitary force that helped destabilize the country in the run-up to the 2004 coup against former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide. From its bases in the Dominican Republic, the group mounted numerous attacks targeting police stations and government supporters. According to Human Rights Watch, Philippe also oversaw extrajudicial killings while a police chief in the late 90s. Facing a sealed indictment in the U.S. for alleged drug trafficking ties and money laundering, Philippe remains a DEA most wanted fugitive.

Philippe appeared alongside Martelly’s chosen successor Jovenel Moïse at a December political rally and has voiced his support for Moïse’s candidacy in radio broadcasts, but the formal alliance is an indication that those ties are now deepening. Philippe, a former police chief who received training from U.S. military forces in Ecuador, found an ally in Martelly, who made the army’s restoration a central plank of his presidency and his party. The army was disbanded under Aristide after a long history of human rights abuses and involvement in coup d’états. “The army has always been a part of our policy…There is no way to have Haiti without an army,” Roudy Chute, a PHTK party representative, stated during an August interview.

In February, Philippe warned of a “civil war” if Privert did not hold elections in April. The political accord that brought Privert to office called for elections in April, but after an electoral verification commission recommended scrapping the entire first round due to fraud, new presidential elections have been scheduled for October.

Last month, Philippe was allegedly tied to a paramilitary attack on a police station in the rural town of Cayes that killed 6, though he has denied involvement and refused to appear for questioning. Philippe had previously been prevented from running for office due to his ties to drug trafficking, but certain regulations were removed last year, allowing a number of candidates with criminal pasts to register. In 2006 Philippe ran for president, garnering less than two percent of the vote.

A DEA spokesperson confirmed that Philippe remains a fugitive, adding that he has proven to be “very elusive,” and that U.S. Marshalls had been given apprehension authority. A spokesperson for the Marshalls contested this, saying the DEA has “solid information about the subject’s whereabouts,” so there was no need for them to transfer apprehension authority. The DEA later acknowledged its responsibility for apprehending Philippe, but would not confirm if any active efforts to do so were underway.

Though the DEA has been involved in a number of high profile arrests in Haiti during the last five years, Philippe remains free.

In the meantime, the ED has called for an uprising against Privert. In a June 12 letter, the group called on Haitian National Police director-general Michel Ange Gédéon to disobey “any illegal order coming from a person stripped of legality and legitimacy,” referring to Privert. The ED also called on the international community to withhold recognition of Privert’s government after June 14.

These calls have largely fallen on deaf ears. The international community has urged parliament to meet to decide Privert’s future and U.S. Haiti Special Coordinator Ken Merten offered a tepid recognition of Privert on a call with reporters last week. Anti-Privert protests planned for last week failed to materialize.

Haiti’s electoral council announced yesterday that new first-round presidential elections would be held in October after a commission found widespread fraud and irregularities in the previous vote. The prospect of the new vote — to be held alongside dozens of parliamentary seats still up for grabs, has raised questions about how it could be funded. The previous elections — determined to be too marred by fraud and violence to count — cost upward of $100 million, with the bulk of the funding coming from international donors.

But now, donors are balking. Last week the State Department’s Haiti Special Coordinator Ken Merten said that if elections are redone “from scratch” than it would put U.S. assistance in jeopardy. It “could also call into question whether the U.S. will be able to continue to support financially Haiti’s electoral process,” Merten added. In a separate interview, Merten explained:

We still do not know what position we will adopt regarding our financial support. U.S. taxpayers have already spent more than $33 million and that is a lot. We can ask ourselves what was done with the money or what guarantees there are that the same thing will not happen again.

So, what was done with the money? Could the same thing happen again?

To begin with, that figure seems to include money allocated in 2012 – years before the electoral process began. Local and legislative elections, which former president Michel Martelly was constitutionally required to organize, failed to happen. A significant share of this early funding likely went to staffing and overhead costs as international organizations or grantees kept their Haiti programs running, despite the absence of elections. It’s also worth pointing out that many millions of that money never went to electoral authorities, but rather to U.S. programs in support of elections.  

In April 2013, USAID awarded a grant to the DC-based Consortium for Elections and Political Processes. In total, $7.23 million went to the consortium before the electoral process even began. An additional $4.95 million was awarded in July 2015, a month before legislative elections. The consortium consists of two DC-based organizations, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) and the National Democratic Institute (NDI). In a January report to Congress, the State Department explained further what some this money went towards:

1.       “the creation and implementation of twenty-six Electoral Information Centers (EICs) … to provide information to the general public on the electoral process”

2.       “training more than 100 journalists in several departments on topics such as the international standards for elections …”

3.       “Funding through INL supported election security.”

4.       “USAID also supported the creation of a new domestic election observation platform that helped build greater transparency into the electoral process by establishing a grassroots coalition of reputable and well-trained domestic observers …”

Some funding also went to increasing women’s participation in the electoral process. But it’s questionable what the return on that $12.18 million really was. Not a single woman was elected to parliament — though it now appears as though at least one was elected, only to have her seat stolen through the bribing of an electoral judge. In terms of providing information to the public about the elections, participation in both the legislative and presidential elections was only about a fifth of the population. The money spent on local observers may have been more successful, but not for U.S. interests. The local observer group, the Citizen Observatory for the Institutionalization of Democracy, led by Rosny Desroches, agreed with other local observation missions that a verification commission (opposed by the U.S.) was needed to restore confidence in the elections. The U.S. spent millions training local observers, only to later ignore their analysis. Instead, the U.S. has consistently pointed to the observation work of international organizations such as the Organization of American States (OAS) and the EU. The U.S. also provided $1 million to the OAS for their observation work.

This Sunday the month-long verification commission that is analyzing Haiti’s elections is expected to release its results. No matter the outcome, Haiti and the international community are bracing for the worst. The U.S. embassy warned yesterday that protests are expected both on Sunday and on Tuesday, when the electoral council said it will announce a new electoral calendar. Rosny Desroches, who led a U.S.-financed local observation mission, predicted a “climate of tension and pressure” after the verification report is released, according to Miami Herald journalist Jacqueline Charles.

Provisional president Jocelerme Privert, who took office after ex-president Michel Martelly’s term ended, created the verification commission after widespread condemnation of fraud following August’s legislative elections and October’s first-round presidential elections. After virtually all of Haiti’s opposition political parties and civil society organizations denounced the continuation of the electoral process without such a commission, Privert said it was needed to restore confidence and credibility to the elections. The U.S. and other actors in the international community, after first trying to prevent the verification, have largely accepted it, while still trying to limit the possible outcomes.

"We hope it is very, very quick and does not change the results of the election," State Department Haiti Special Coordinator Kenneth Merten said on a trip to Haiti in late April.

Though little information has come out about the verification commission’s work, it has been analyzing records at the Central Tabulation Center, where tally sheets and other elections materials were counted and archived, for the last few weeks. The Organization of American States (OAS), previously the most vocal proponent of the election’s credibility, is monitoring the commission’s work.

While the exact outcome is unknown, there are three main scenarios which could result from the commission’s work. It could largely confirm the findings of a previous evaluation that found widespread irregularities and fraud, but recommended moving forward with the cancelled second round between PHTK’s Jovenel Moise (the hand-picked successor to Martelly) and Jude Celestin of LAPEH. It could exclude one or more candidates due to fraud, opening the runoff to third-place finisher Moise Jean Charles of Pitit Dessalines or it could determine that due to the magnitude of the problems a new first round election should be held. Either way, certain political factions and their supporters are bound to be aggrieved, fueling the expectation that the commission’s conclusions will provoke “tension and pressure.”

If the first-round is simply ratified and a second round between the top two finishers in the October vote is called for, the same actors who took to the streets and denounced widespread fraud will likely remobilize. On the other side, PHTK will try to resist either a first round rerun or, more importantly, the exclusion of its candidate due to fraud. From the beginning, PHTK has denounced the verification as a smokescreen to oust Jovenel Moise.

For the international community, led predominantly by the U.S., there remain a few primary objectives; containing any widespread violence and political instability, especially with U.S. presidential elections upcoming and blocking a return of Lavalas to the presidency. After helping to overturn the 2010 election results and ushering Martelly into the presidency, then backing him and his PHTK party for the last five years with billions in aid and diplomatic cover, the U.S. has invested quite a bit in the party’s political success. Still, the threat of similar protests to what occurred in late 2015 and early 2016 from opposition parties and civil society also weighs heavily.

“It seems the primary concern [of the U.S.] is Pitit Dessalines and Fanmi Lavalas…they are seen as a greater danger because of presumed popular support,” an international official involved in the elections recently told me. The U.S. has consistently maintained they favor no particular candidate or party.

Interim President Jocelerme Privert has announced his intention to move forward with the creation of an electoral verification commission. But the commission faces significant pushback from both international actors who provide the bulk of the funding for Haiti’s elections and Haitian politicians connected to former president Michel Martelly.

Responding to the “unanimous expression” of civil society and political leaders, Privert declared on Monday that a new round of consultations would be held this week, aimed at establishing common terms of reference and identifying potential members for a verification commission. The body, which has yet to be formally organized, would be tasked with reviewing previous election results and electoral court decisions before moving forward with the as-yet-unfinished electoral process. A verification process is necessary, Privert said, to establish confidence and encourage “players to trust the [electoral council] and to participate in the upcoming elections.”

Political and civil society leaders have long demanded a verification commission, after earlier elections in 2015 were marred by violence and widespread reports of fraud. Official results from the first round of voting put then-President Martelly’s handpicked successor, Jovenel Moise, in first place, followed by Jude Celestin in second place. Celestin joined with other opposition candidates, demanding a verification and other changes to the electoral system before agreeing to participate in a runoff. On April 6, the coordinator of Celestin’s party LAPEH told the Haitian press that they would not participate in any second-round election without a verification commission first being established.

In response to Privert’s announcement of the commission, supporters of Moise have taken to the streets to denounce the move. They argue that the process will be used as a smokescreen to remove their candidate from the race. Moise’s hostility to a verification is shared by the U.S., the European Union and United Nations, all of which have come out against the verification commission and have urged Haitian authorities to complete the electoral process as soon as possible. “That’s one reason why the U.S. did not want to hear about verification … they know it will create fears” among Martelly’s supporters, an international official involved in the electoral process told me last week. Last week, some 60 leaders and organizations in the Haitian diaspora wrote to Secretary of State John Kerry, urging the U.S. to support a verification.

“We believe … a new assessment, or even verification, is not necessary,” U.S. Ambassador Peter F. Mulrean told the Haitian daily Le Nouvelliste last week, adding that additional financing for Haiti’s electoral process would be reassessed after seeing how the question of a verification commission was answered. “The last card to avoid a verification: no money,” said the international official. International donors have also withheld budget support from financial institutions like the Inter-American Development Bank and World Bank.

The stance of the international powers leaves many in Haiti puzzled. Pierre Esperance, the director of a prominent human rights organization and head of a local electoral observation mission team, wondered, “how can Haiti go to the second round without a verification?” Trying to push forward without a verification is likely to lead to a repeat of the street protests that rocked the capital almost daily in late 2015 and early 2016, and that contributed to the election’s cancellation in the first place.

“The verification process must take place. There is an awful lot of suspicions that there was fraud in that election process, and it would not suit any government that is elected without a verification process because there would always be that suspicion,” Sir Ronald Sanders, an Antiguan diplomat, told the Miami Herald last week.

On Sunday, in what had increasingly become inevitable, Fritz Jean, the provisional president’s choice for prime minister, was rejected by Haiti’s chamber of deputies. Needing 60 votes to gain approval of his governmental program, only 38 voted in favor; 36 voted against, one abstained and more than a dozen stayed home. 60 votes would be an absolute majority in the Chamber, but more than 20 seats are empty, awaiting reruns of flawed elections.

Appointed by Haiti’s temporary leader, Jocelerme Privert over three weeks ago, Jean’s rejection has all but eliminated any chance that elections can be held next month. Privert, who came to office on February 14 with a mandate of 120 days, has yet to form a new government or a new electoral council.

Why was Jean’s platform rejected and where do things go from here? It’s as much about political control as it is about elections.

The opposition to Fritz Jean’s approval as prime minister was led by the pro-Martelly bloc in the chamber of deputies. Deputy Gary Bodeau explained to Reuters after the vote that “We rejected the program of Fritz Jean because his nomination by President Privert did not meet the consensus requirements which should characterize the prime minister.”

The political accord signed on February 5 called for a “consensus” prime minister, to be chosen after consultations with both chambers of parliament as well as civil society. After 10 days of meetings, Privert chose Fritz Jean, who was promptly sworn in while awaiting parliament’s approval of his government program.

Despite having broad support among the main private sector actors, the pro-Martelly bloc (including former PM Evans Paul) almost immediately signaled its rejection of Jean.

There are a few theories as to why.

Privert, who is a member of former-president Rene Preval’s political party and was a minister under Aristide in the early 2000s, chose a prime minister from a similar political current; Jean was head of the Central Bank under Aristide.

Though much of the criticism, such as branding this a Fanmi Lavalas “coup,” was clearly classic red-baiting, the pro-Martelly lawmakers had reason to worry.

After benefitting from the deep pockets of running a campaign while controlling the presidency, the Martelly bloc saw itself being excluded from the government. The provisional government would exert control over the continuation of the electoral process; whether or not there would be an electoral verification commission and the composition of the new electoral council.

Pressure was continuing to build from civil society and many political parties for an independent verification commission. Privert has signaled his opening to such an endeavor. The only political movement that has opposed such a commission is the one supporting Jovenel Moise, Martelly’s handpicked successor. Official results showed Moise in first place, but he has been dogged by allegations of fraud ever since.

If the pro-Martelly bloc failed to maintain some control over the government, the likelihood of a verification commission taking place, and either removing Moise from the race, or calling for entirely new first-round elections, would be significantly greater.

But it’s not all about the elections.

When Privert was sworn in as provisional president, very few political actors in Haiti believed he would be able to accomplish all that was needed in just 120 days. Many saw, from the beginning, that there would need to be either a new provisional leader after 120 days, or a new political agreement that would extend the mandate.

Both sides have accused the other of wanting to stall the process so as to force this next move. The pro-Martelly bloc accuses Privert of purposely choosing a prime minister that had little chance of success, in order to avoid any possibility of having elections in April and to extend his mandate. On the other hand, those supportive of Privert accuse the pro-Martelly bloc of blocking the prime minister in order to run out Privert’s 120 days, with the hope of taking control of the provisional presidency for themselves.

While the prime minister post remains unfilled, so too does the presidency of the Senate. When Privert resigned his senate seat to become provisional president, it left an opening at the top of the institution. The fight for that seat provides important context. Youri Latortue, who tried and failed to become Senate president in January (Privert got the votes), still aspires to the leadership position. If Latortue presided over the Senate, and with his political ally Chancy Cholzer leading the lower house, the pro-Martelly bloc would be in a stronger position to determine the next provisional president. The accord states that if the mandate expires, “Where appropriate, the National Assembly will take the necessary decisions.”

If Latortue had been given the Senate presidency, it’s likely that Jean would have been approved as prime minister. But, the provisional government refused, recognizing the threat that Latortue could pose in that position. The usual horse-trading didn’t work, though accusations that Jean’s backers tried to buy support in parliament have emerged. If they did, it wasn’t a great investment.

Controlling the government also includes control over demands for an audit of the finances of the Martelly administration. Privert and Jean at times indicted they were favorable to such an audit, and at others said it was best left to an elected government. The economy is stagnant and public finances have deteriorated to a dangerous level. Whether legitimate or not, calls for an audit have only heightened the political tension; some of those supporting it are clearly interested in political revenge, while some opposed clearly are trying to protect themselves from greater scrutiny.

The following post is cross-posted from the Haiti Elections blog

Senate candidate and former paramilitary leader Guy Philippe has threatened a “civil war” if the Privert government fails to hold elections on April 24. Efforts to restart the electoral process have been stalled by a stand-off between interim President Jocelerme Privert and pro-Martelly legislators, who insist on quick elections without a verification of the vote. Philippe’s threat to resolve Haiti’s electoral crisis through violence would seem very real, given the recent parade of militiamen sympathetic to PHTK on February 5. Despite his bellicose comments and his name appearing on the U.S. government’s Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) wanted list for drug trafficking, the international powers do not appear concerned by Philippe’s political involvement or his repeated threats of violence.

In a February 29 radio message commemorating the 12th anniversary of the 2004 coup d’État, Philippe accused President Privert of wanting to hold on to power beyond his 120-day term limit and warned of “a macabre plan, a Machiavellian plan to bring the country directly into a civil war.” Philippe called for “vigilance” on the part of former soldiers and others who had fought against the “dictatorship” of Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 2004, and declared that “there are people who are prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice if necessary.” Philippe concluded by saying:

Once more, we say no coup, no Machiavellian plan will pass. No one in power will be able to be my enemy. There’s an election that needs to happen, and it will happen. And if it doesn’t happen, neither Parliamentarians, nor the provisional president, nor anyone with any repressive force they know and have in their service, no one will be able to hold back this people, no one will be able to hold back these honest citizens, no one will be able to hold me, Guy Philippe, back. Thank you.

In a subsequent television interview at his home in Pestel, Philippe reiterated this message, stating that a civil war would break out if the “Lavalassian tendency” tried to stay in power. “I believe Privert has no choice; he must organize elections or he must leave power May 14.” Philippe also denounced Prime Minister Fritz Jean’s appointment as contrary to constitutional norms.

Philippe’s political position mirrors that of Youri Latortue and other PHTK-aligned figures, who have alleged that Jean, a former governor of Haiti’s central bank, is too close to Lavalas and is thus not qualified to handle the resumption of elections. At issue is whether or not the interim government will conduct a verification of vote on August 9 and October 25. Pro-Martelly candidates, including presidential candidate Jovenel Moïse, are widely suspected of having benefitted from fraudulent votes in previous rounds. 

Philippe ran for Senator of the Grand’Anse, finishing first with 22.5% of the vote on October 25. Violence, confrontations and allegations of ballot-stuffing were rife in the Grand’Anse during the first-round legislative elections on August 9. These disruptions meant that for the constituencies of Pestel, Anse-d’Hainault/Les Irois, Jérémie, Corail and Roseaux (5 out of 9 in the department) only 70.7% to 75.9% of tally sheets were received by the CEP’s Tabulation Center. The CEP ultimately decided to withhold publication of first-round results until after October 25, when Senate voting was re-run in Jérémie and Pestel (Philippe’s hometown). Philippe’s party, Consortium, ran candidates in the region and has two deputies in the new parliament. Louis-Jodel Chamblain, a notorious leader of the death squad FRAPH during the 1991-1994 coup, ran under the Consortium banner as a candidate in Les Anglais-Chardonnières, Sud. Chamblain served as Philippe’s lieutenant during the 2004 paramilitary insurgency and was acquitted of the 1993 murder of pro-democracy activist Antoine Izmery in a widely-denounced retrial after the coup.

Haitian human rights groups, election observers and opposition parties continue to call for a verification commission as an indispensible step before resuming the electoral process, even if this means extending the term of the transition government. Moïse and his parliamentary allies, on the other hand, insist that the elections be held on April 24, as called for in the political accord, and on the basis of the current results. They strongly oppose any verification commission. Philippe’s statements clearly place him in the latter camp. The political party he leads, Consortium, is reputed have had close relations with former President Michel Martelly. During the presidential campaign, Jovenel Moïse was photographed with Guy Philippe when he toured the Grand’Anse. 

Philippe’s threats of a civil war may be a bluff to frighten the Privert government. But the danger cannot be lightly dismissed, given the apparent influence Philippe has over recently-mobilized paramilitaries seen in Port-au-Prince and other towns on February 5. After the cancellation of second-round elections by the CEP on January 22, Guy Philippe had denounced opposition protesters as “anarchists” and declared that he and his men were “ready for war.” Days later, nearly a hundred armed men in green military fatigues claiming to be members of Haiti’s disbanded military paraded menacingly through the streets of several Haitian cities, as negotiations over the creation of an interim government were unfolding. Clashes between the paramilitaries and anti-Martelly protesters left one paramilitary member dead. 

The international community has been surprisingly silent on Philippe’s calls to arms. U.S. representatives in Haiti have made no comments about the threat of armed rebellion by pro-Martelly paramilitary forces or the inflammatory calls to insurrection made by Philippe. When opposition protesters committed acts of vandalism in late January, however, State Department envoy Kenneth Merten reacted by strongly denouncing these incidents as “electoral intimidation” that was “not acceptable.” The UN, for its part, merely "noted with concern the organized presence of several dozen people in green uniforms, some armed."

The complacency of the U.S. is all the more intriguing, given that Philippe is wanted by U.S. law enforcement for involvement in drug trafficking and money laundering. Philippe has been on a DEA fugitive list for years and has escaped numerous attempts to arrest him. A DEA spokesperson confirmed he remained a fugitive, adding that he has proven to be “very elusive,” and that the U.S. Marshalls had been given apprehension authority. However, a spokesperson for the Marshalls replied that this was not the case, stating given the “solid information” possessed by the DEA “about the subject’s whereabouts,” there was”no reason” to transfer apprehension authority. The DEA later acknowledged its sole responsibility for apprehending Philippe. Despite his rising public profile, however, Philippe has yet to be arrested.

Interestingly, the DEA has had the cooperation of the Martelly administration in other high-profile cases. In an interview with the New Yorker’s John Lee Anderson, a DEA informant said that no one was particularly concerned about allegations that Martelly’s associates were involved in drug trafficking or corruption, because "whatever else Martelly had done, he complied with the DEA’s local operations."

Human rights groups worried prior to the start of the 2015 elections that Haiti’s next parliament could become a redoubt of drug dealers, criminals and human rights abusers. The political involvement of Guy Philippe, who is on the U.S. government’s Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) wanted list for drug trafficking, and his political party Consortium underlines how real this concern is.

On Friday, March 4, 2016 representatives from the Organization of American States (OAS) and State Department joined two visiting Haitian human rights leaders and two U.S.-based academics in a discussion on Haiti’s current electoral crisis. Organized by the Haiti Advocacy Working Group (HAWG) and sponsored by Representative Yvette Clarke (D-NY), the discussion focused on the causes of the postponement of the electoral crisis, the selection of Provisional President Jocelerme Privert and efforts to move the electoral process forward.

The five panelists made opening remarks and then moderator, Dr. Robert Maguire of the Elliot School of International Affairs at George Washington University, directed an open discussion among the speakers.

The event, in its entirety, can be viewed here. Following are excerpts from the panelists’ opening remarks and the subsequent discussion.

Professor Robert Fatton, University of Virginia

Professor Fatton opened the discussion by providing some useful background on the current situation, noting that President Martelly agreeing to step down on February 7 when his term ended and the subsequent selection of Senate president Privert as provisional president had “temporarily eased political tensions.”

Fatton noted that the accord, signed by Martelly, Privert (as Senate president) and Chancy Cholzer, the president of the Chamber of Deputies had tasked Privert with forming a new consensus government, reforming the electoral council and finally, implementing the recommendations of an evaluation commission formed in late December 2015.

“While Privert may succeed with the first two tasks, he will be hard pressed to accomplish the third,” Fatton argues. He explains further that the crisis stems from the “perceived illegitimacy of the whole electoral process,” and that without a verification commission – as has been demanded by many in Haitian civil society – “Haiti will not extricate itself from the current quagmire.”

In the clip below, Fatton makes these points and expounds further on sources of opposition to a further verification.

Believing that altering the results of the election or scrapping the process entirely will be politically untenable, Fatton instead puts forward an “extraconstitutional” approach that would see the second-round runoff opened up to the top four candidates. Privert will need the “Midas touch” to move Haiti out of the current political impasse.

Fatton ridiculed each side in Haiti for calling for the intervention of the international community when it serves their particular interests. But added that, on the other hand, the international community must “stop customary interferences and allow Haitians to devise their own history and make their own mistakes. Barring this Haiti will continue to be in a permanent state of crisis.”

Gerardo de Icaza, Director of the Department of Electoral Cooperation and Observation, OAS

Gerardo de Icaza, in his opening remarks, addressed criticism of the OAS and its role as an election observer in Haiti. “Without a doubt, don’t be surprised, you will be disappointed with what I say today. I know this. And I know you know it,” he opened. Icaza said that the OAS did see many irregularities during the election, but that they “were not a determining factor in the results that were presented.”

“What you expect from us is to come out and say there was a massive fraud, the results should not be accepted, everything should be scrapped and we should start from zero. Well, I cannot say that,” de Icaza continued.

De Icaza addressed the concerns around the issue of mandataires, political party representatives who have been recognized as one of the largest sources of fraud and irregularities during the election.

“Now, 900,000 mandataires. Who are registered by whom? By the political parties. Plural. By one political party? No. By many political parties. Plural.” Did they all vote and did they all vote only once, de Icaza asked rhetorically. “We do not know,” he answers, adding that OAS observers saw safeguards in place to prevent multiple voting.

“Did they all vote for the same candidate? I seriously doubt it. Because that would mean that there was a fraud that was so well orchestrated… that we would have detected that. And we did not see that.”

Kent Brokenshire, Deputy Haiti Special Coordinator, U.S. Department of State

As opposed to other panelists who focused on the current situation, Brokenshire used his opening remarks to harken back on his first tour in Haiti, during the early 90s. He discussed the connection he felt towards Haiti and how it has captivated so many others throughout the years.

Brokenshire pushed back on the idea that Haiti has not seen progress in recent decades, noting that while Haiti still is facing many political challenges, “the difference is beautiful.”

“These challenges are being addressed around tables, by politicians, by elected leaders. This was not the case before, you had people hanging on to raw power through military means.”

Pierre Esperance, Director, National Human Rights Defense Network of Haiti (RNDDH)

Esperance, who led a local electoral observation mission that was present in more than half of all polling centers in the country on election day, contrasted what the OAS observed with what his local group found and stressed the need for an independent verification commission before moving forward.

“Haiti needs the support of the international community…I think there needs to be a minimum respect for Haiti,” Esperance said. “When I say minimum respect, what do I mean by that? When we talk of democracy, what democracy are we speaking of? There should not be two levels of democracy – one for those that are advanced and one for those less advanced.”

Pointing to the high-level of violence, irregularities and “massive fraud,” Esperance noted that while the international community came to observe the election and make some recommendations, “they did not go to the lengths that we went.” But, Esperance added, “We are not the people who have the proof.”

The evidence of what Esperance alleges is, according to him, “sitting in the tabulation center and we are asking for that information to be verified.”

“If you put together an independent commission of evaluation, they will see that. The proofs are there. That is why we didn’t get a president elected on December 27 or January 24. So, when we ask for a commission of verification and evaluation, we don’t have in our head that a particular candidate will be expelled from the process. And it would be very difficult to put one particular candidate outside the process. And I don’t think that will change the results of the 4 or 5 at the top of the race but it will help us end impunity and corruption in the country. If you find the truth and seek the truth then we can organize acceptable elections,” Esperance explains.

Esperance, in a message to the international community, stated that “you cannot ask the Haitians to accept the unacceptable,” adding that “we are not seeking perfect elections, we want acceptable elections.”

Marie Frantz Joachim, Haitian Women’s Solidarity (SOFA)

Marie Frantz opened by moving the discussion to a different aspect of the electoral process: the lack of women in parliament and how that happened.

Despite 23 Senate candidates and more than 120 Deputy candidates, Marie Frantz pointed out that there is “not a single woman inside parliament.”

She discussed the role that Martelly has played, particularly by publicly and verbally abusing a woman at a campaign rally last summer. “Basically, he said that women are just there to satisfy men sexually, therefore women do not have a role in parliament or politics.” Therefore, she added, it is “not surprising that today we don’t have a single woman in the parliament.”

Another cause was the “the corruption that existed within the electoral system.” According to Marie Frantz, many women candidates, who were expected to advance to the runoff, faced electoral contestations at the electoral courts. But, she continued, “the people that they were facing had more money and they paid and they went through.”

“The person with the most money is the person that gets elected.”

Marie Frantz then addressed the question of a verification commission, stating that “we need to know the truth.”

“It’s when we have that truth that we can truly say we have people that have been elected legitimately. We need people who are elected through credible elections so we can have peace in the country. We need to establish a sense of trust between the population and political authorities.”

Finally, Marie Frantz concluded, “without women there is no democracy.”

Panel Discussion

Dr. Maguire, the moderator of the event, opened up the panel discussion by asking about the proliferation of political parties in recent years, which contributed to the problems with mandataires on election day.

Esperance responded that while Haiti has already had many parties, it is “during the Martelly government that we see a surge in political parties.” The explanation, he continued, was that Martelly wanted additional parties to strengthen his negotiating position with the opposition.

Marie Frantz then added that according to the law on political parties that was passed in 2014, it only takes 20 people for a party to be officially recognized. She added that, “a lot of those political parties were selling their mandataires to other parties … it was strategically thought out.”

Esperance added that it was not just political parties who received accreditation passes for mandataires, but that observer groups also received these passes, sometimes up to 17,000 of them, which were then turned around and sold to political parties. “That’s what we saw and that’s what we said. That’s why the international community is not supporting a commission for verification and evaluation because that’s where the proof lies,” Esperance concluded.

De Icaza first responded to accusations that the OAS had a double standard when it came to elections in Haiti. “Without a doubt the OAS does not have a double standard. No. We have 34 different standards. Not one, not two, 34 different standards.” That is because there is no one recipe for what makes an election free and fair, adding that that is “why the work with national observers is so important.”  

De Icaza clarified that the OAS has “never asked the Haitian people to accept these results,” but has only “stated our position and what we’ve seen.” “We have said, over and over, that whatever the solution is, it has to be a democratic solution and it has to be a Haitian solution. We have not gone any further than that,” he said.

“The problem that we have, for a certain sector of the population, no result unless we reach the cancelation of the results, will be acceptable.”

Fatton fired back, noting that there was a “fetishism” of elections in Haiti. “Every election that is fraudulent is acceptable, so at the end of the day, fraud becomes the new norm. And when fraud is the new norm, there is a breakdown in the electoral process, this is inevitable.”

Fatton discussed the recent history of “ad-hoc” electoral solutions in the 2006 and 2010 elections, and noted the current disagreement between local and international observers. “Let us not try and be nice and diplomatic, there is a fundamental breakdown of trust between the international community and Haitian civil society organizations.”

“One says it was a farce and the other says, well, it wasn’t that bad, it was acceptable. And the problem is the more you accept elections that are fraudulent, the more the system literally decomposes and that’s what is happening in Haiti.”

Fatton concludes: “But I guarantee you that if you have another election, a runoff between two candidates, whoever they may be,  without the commission on verification, an independent one, the new government elected will be in deep trouble a few months afterwards because it will have very limited legitimacy … this is a recipe for another crisis.”

Esperance then addressed the OAS representative, de Icaza, noting that while the situation in each country is different, their work in Haiti is based on what is contained in the electoral law. “There are many people who voted many times, particularly the observers and political representatives. That’s fraud. Help us construct democracy, help us end impunity and corruption.”

Kent Brokenshire, the State Department representative, who remained relatively quiet throughout the panel, then chimed in to underscore that “this is a Haitian process” and the U.S. doesn’t “favor any candidate at all, what we favor is democracy.” Though not directly addressing the calls for a verification commission, Brokenshire expressed the U.S.’ desire to “see Haiti move through the electoral cycle now and have a truly elected president to represent the will of the Haitian people, have a democratically elected head of state with whom we would be able to deal country to country.”

Pushing back on other panelists comments about the unlikelihood of elections being held in April, as the political accord had called for, Brokenshire added that: “In this accord they targeted April 14 [it’s actually April 24] as the day for elections, they gave the provisional president 120 days to complete that. So, they basically set out the rules for that and this is something that was done among Haitians, there was no whispering in ears there. This is something done among Haitians and something that we respect.”

Esperance responded that the accord did not involve the entire Haitian society and that the timeframe they put forward was “impossible.” “There is not even a 1% chance that a president will be installed on May 14, even in June it’s impossible. So what do we want? First, there will be a new CEP. There will be a commission for evaluation and verification. And I guarantee you that commission must happen otherwise there will be no election.” Even if the results do not change, we need to seek the truth, he added.

De Icaza then indicated that if Haitian leaders decide that a verification commission is needed to move the process forward, then “that’s perfect and the OAS will probably accompany this process.” But, he continued, it will issue a report that will show what we already know, that there were many irregularities. “Will they be able to put a number on those irregularities? I don’t know if they can do that scientifically, to tell you the truth.”

“For us, the difference between first, second and third is so clear that it would be difficult for those things to change. But if that’s what is needed and that is the Haitian solution, that’s wonderful,” he stated. De Icaza pointed out, however, that if a verification commission was formed, it would need clear timelines and rules to ensure its acceptance and success.

Marie Frantz responded by referencing the lack of trust between international actors and the Haitian people, but noted that these institutions, including the OAS, “have a great deal to gain by working hand in hand with Haitian society to put together this commission.”

“The lack of trust that exists between the population and these institutions…work to reestablish trust is work that is extremely important and I hope that the reflections we are having today will allow us…to reestablish trust.”

The following has been cross-posted from the Haiti Elections Blog. The agreement itself can be found at the original source. 

Update: Jocelerme Privert has been elected provisional president by the National Assembly.

President Michel Martelly managed to reach a political accord with the heads of Haiti’s parliament on the creation of a transitional government, averting a potentially dangerous political vacuum. In keeping with the deal, Martelly stepped down on February 7, meeting a major demand of his opponents. But the accord also gives a great deal of power to a contested Parliament and fixes a time frame for the transition that would appear to rule out any real investigation of fraud in the previous rounds of elections. With pro-Martelly members of Haiti’s disbanded military (FAdH) on the march, the spectre of another, more violent round of political unrest hangs over the agreement. Given the accord’s many ambiguities and contradictions, Haiti’s electoral crisis has yet to be solved.

The deal’s text, entitled “Political Accord for institutional continuity upon the end of the term of office of the President of the Republic and in the absence of a President-elect and for the continuation of the 2015 electoral process,” was finalized at 1am on Friday night, after 28 meetings between various actors. President Martelly, Senate President Jocelerme Privert and Chamber of Deputies President Chancy Cholzer signed at the National Palace on Saturday, February 6. The solution found by the Executive and the lawmakers was “inspired by constitutional dispositions” rather than directly derived from the Haitian Constitution, because the Constitution did not clearly indicate what was supposed to happen when a president’s term ended without an elected successor in place.

The political accord confirmed Martelly’s departure on the constitutionally mandated end of his term on February 7 and provided a roadmap for the establishment of a provisional government. A provisional president will be elected by the National Assembly (a joint body of the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate) within five days of the signing of the accord, while executive power will be exercised in the interim by current Prime Minister Evans Paul and the Council of Ministers. Parliament has already established a bicameral committee to receive and vet applications for the post, and if all goes well, a provisional president will be sworn in on February 14. The mandate of the provisional president is limited to a maximum of 120 days, starting from the day they assume office.

The provisional president is tasked with “redynamizing” the currently “dysfunctional” CEP and finding a “consensus” Prime Minister. To do so, the political accord gives the provisional president the responsibility to establish a broad consultation process with Haitian society and the two Chambers of parliament mandate is find a consensus Prime Minister, who will then form a government and be confirmed by Parliament. Although not stated in the accord’s text, the New York Times reported that Martelly had made “an important concession” during the negotiations, agreeing to allow a member of an opposition party to be selected as interim president.

The provisional president is also called on to convoke the various social sectors to delegate new representatives (or confirm existing ones) to the CEP. At present, the CEP has only three of nine members, meaning it lacks the necessary two-third quorum for publishing electoral results. Just as important, the credibility of the current CEP has been badly eroded by corruption scandals and its complicity in Martelly’s efforts to ram through fraudulent elections despite strong opposition.

Once in place, the “redynamized” CEP will ensure the “continuation of the electoral process initiated during 2015,” according the agreement. The steps to be taken include the implementation of the “technical recommendations” of the Evaluation Commission and the finalization of municipal election results, followed by the organization of “second round of presidential elections, partial legislative elections, and local elections.” The accord fixes April 24 as the date for these elections, with final results proclaimed on May 6 and an elected president installed on May 14. Many commentators, including Senate President Privert, have pointed out that this calendar is only tentative, since only the CEP has the authority to officially set election dates.

Although the political accord’s signatories claimed to be “seeking a broad consensus of all vital forces of the nation,” support for the agreement was not unanimous. Almost immediately after it was signed, the deal was denounced in the streets by opposition protesters. The Group of Eight (G-8) characterized the agreement as “anti-popular and anti-democratic” and the Front du Refus et de la Résistance Patriotique, a grouping of political and civil society leaders, which called the deal “stillborn.” The G-30, another grouping of presidential candidates, announced that it will challenge the political accord’s legality. These critics charged that the deal did not taken into account a sufficiently wide range of perspectives. Senate President Jocelerme Privert admitted that some opposition lawmakers disagreed with the accord reached by Martelly and legislators, but Privert said they would have to accept the majority's decision. “This is the democratic way,” he said. Some pro-Martelly legislators have also expressed discontent with the deal.

Months before the August legislative elections last year, a small scandal erupted in the electoral bureau of Haiti’s Artibonite department. Nine months later Haiti remains mired in a political crisis, but how this came to be has faded from the headlines.

Tracing the election’s flaws from the beginning, in the Artibonite Valley, reveals just how corrupt the electoral process has been and how the politics of power and money have subverted the democratic will of the Haitian people and the elections’ credibility from day one.

In April, Louis Frantz Dort replaced Ralph Ederson Dieuconserve in the departmental electoral bureau of the Artibonite. “This suspicious change is evidence that an electoral coup is being prepared for the Parti Haitien Tet Kale (PHTK) in the Artibonite,” political activist, Délice Jacques, told the local press. The PHTK is the party of current president Michel Martelly, whom human rights organizations, religious leaders and the political opposition have accused of manipulating the elections for his own benefit and that of his allies. But in the Artibonite, this takes on a unique dynamic.

The PHTK openly allied with a number of political parties, but “then you have the local potentates,” explained an official with an international election observation mission, who requested anonymity since the process is ongoing. “It’s lord logic. They may not be part of PHTK, but the local leader wants to maintain control of his area for himself, not just for the party.” For the better part of the last decade, Haiti’s second-largest department, the Artibonite, has increasingly been controlled by Youri Latortue — a former senator and nephew of former Prime Minister Gerard Latortue — and his political party, Haiti in Action (AAA).

An advisor to President Martelly, Latortue was described by U.S. Ambassador to Haiti Janet Sanderson in a 2007 cable published by WikiLeaks, as “the poster boy for political corruption in Haiti.” The former head of the United Nations in Haiti referred to him as a “drug dealer.” A year prior, after speaking with a close colleague of Latortue, Sanderson cabled that Latortue “may well be the most brazenly corrupt of leading Haitian politicians,” adding that “The Latortue family is crawling all over Haitian politics.”

***

Haiti remained on edge in the lead-up to the August election. After the terms of the entire Chamber of Deputies and two-thirds of the Senate expired in January 2015, Martelly ruled the country without legislative oversight. Without elections, local officials had, years earlier, been replaced by political appointees. Despite pledges from the national electoral council (CEP) and positive assessments from international observers, the vote on August 9 was plagued by widespread violence, intimidation and outright fraud. It was, arguably, the worst in the Artibonite.

Votes from more than 30 percent of ballot boxes across the department were never counted, as voting was shut down by armed gangs. In other cases, ballots disappeared en route to the tabulation center. The Artibonite was the only one of Haiti’s 10 departments that failed to reach the threshold of 70-percent-of-votes-counted, an arbitrary and after-the-fact benchmark instituted by the CEP. When the CEP announced preliminary results on August 17, it declared that the entire Senate election in the Artibonite was to be done over and in addition, in eight districts where fewer than 70 percent of votes were counted, races would also have to be rerun. In five areas, the vote was so marred that not a single vote was counted.

Later, the head of the Organization of American States (OAS) election monitoring division, Gerardo de Icaza, said that the number of missing votes in August would have been "enough to void" the results had they been in a national race. But De Icaza suggested that because the August vote was for local races, problems could be handled at the local level by rerunning the races. In reality, many of the problems were never addressed, setting the electoral process off course from the beginning and undermining the legitimacy of the incoming legislature that was partially sworn in last month.

The CEP, in an attempt to assuage concerns over the August violence, sanctioned 16 candidates, excluding them from the electoral process. It also issued a communiqué, warning political parties involved in “ransacking voting centers” and “removing electoral materials” that further acts would lead to harsher sanctions. But it stopped short of any direct action against parties.

In the Artibonite, the CEP warned five groups: the ruling-party’s PHTK; Latortue’s AAA; the Prime Minister’s KID party; a smaller party, REPAREN, closely linked to Latortue; and the Bouclier party. This latter party was created by Calixte Valentine, an accused murderer and a close advisor to President Martelly. Its presidential candidate’s chief of staff was another Martelly advisor. The party was so controversial that in the days after the August 9 vote, a campaign advisor to the PHTK, Roudy Choute, seeking to distance his party from Bouclier, described them as “the party with the worst drug connections.” 

Less than three percent of Haitians would have voted in the planned January 24 election, according to a new survey. As political leaders and international officials meet and discuss a way out of Haiti’s current political crisis, the survey sheds light on what the Haitian people would like to see happen.

Released today by the Brazilian Igarape Institute, the report, co-authored by Athena Kolbe and Robert Muggah, shows a tremendous lack of faith in the current electoral process, but indicates that it could be restored if certain actions are taken. Three quarters of all respondents said they would vote if they believed elections were free and fair. Getting there will be the tough part.

“Haitian citizens need to be informed of the process behind every key decision made for the resulting actions to have a chance of being viewed as legitimate,” the authors write. “And ordinary Haitian people need to be confident that their needs, opinions, and votes are driving the democratic process.”

After violent and fraud marred legislative elections in August, many voters were wary about going to the polls in the October presidential elections. 41 percent of respondents indicated they stayed home due to fraud or security concerns. Many also said that there was no point in voting and candidates didn’t care about people like them.

These concerns only increased in anticipation of the planned January 24 election. Only three percent intended to vote, with 68 percent citing “election fraud” as the reason why they would stay home. The election was officially cancelled due to security concerns, but it was this lack of faith in the process that had doomed the election.

Looking forward, respondents identified clear actions that could be taken to restore trust in the electoral process. Asked what needed to be done to restore confidence, the most popular answers involved conducting an independent investigation into fraud and intimidation in previous elections before moving forward. “Respondents, overall, preferred options that excluded Jovenel Moïse from automatic participation in a second round election,” the authors conclude.

With less than a week left in Haitian President Michel Martelly’s term, and no elected successor to take office, Haiti remains mired in political uncertainty. As negotiations take place over what comes next, one key issue will be whether to go back and investigate the first round results before moving forward.

Many within the international community and the Haitian government are seeking to move forward as quickly as possible with the same two candidates that were scheduled to participate in the January 24 runoff. On the other hand, protesters and many within civil society are advocating a further investigation and verification of the vote.  The Organization of American States (OAS) dispatched a special mission to Haiti yesterday to facilitate dialogue on next steps.

The main argument against further verification has relied on the “quick count” conducted by the OAS on election day that was based on a sample of tally sheets observed from polling centers throughout the country.

The OAS count has been used by others to argue that fraud allegations are overblown. During an OAS council meeting last week on the situation in Haiti, Gerardo de Icaza, the head of the OAS electoral observation department, said the “results published by the CEP [Provisional Electoral Council] agreed with the OAS statistical sample,” and that the organization had conducted three other statistical tests that all showed the same top four candidates.

During an interview in December, State Department Special Coordinator Ken Merten told me that there had not been credible proof of fraud and the U.S. “understanding is that both the U.N. and OAS think the results were close to the quick count.”

Telegraphing why this matters in the current context, the European Union representative, speaking at the same OAS meeting last week, stated the EU’s desire to see the electoral process move forward, “considering the results of the process so far.” In other words, this means moving forward without any verification of the first round results.

But the OAS’s quick count does not mean what they want you to think it means. There are serious concerns about what percentage of the votes cast were legitimate votes but the OAS count sheds no light on this crucial issue.

Second-round presidential and legislative runoffs, scheduled for Sunday January 24, were abruptly cancelled on Friday, less than 48 hours before polls were to open. Ruling-party backed Jovenel Moise was set to face off against Jude Celestin, who had pledged to boycott the race. Protests against the election increased throughout the week, culminating in a massive demonstration that made its way to the headquarters of the electoral council (CEP) on Friday morning.

“Jan. 24 is no longer opportune for having elections considering the threats against the electoral infrastructure and on the population who would have to go vote,” said CEP president Pierre Louis Opont in cancelling the election.

But if the threat of violence provided the necessary pretext, the writing was already on the wall. Since fraud and irregularity-marred first-round presidential elections in October (and really, since the violent August legislative elections), a growing chorus of Haitian civil society had spoken out against the continuation of the electoral process as is. An evaluation commission, created by the president, found that only eight percent of tally sheets were free from irregularities or manipulation.

“It is crazy to see that it was contemplated to hold a round in these conditions,” on January 24, said a western official working on election-related matters.

The nine-member electoral council had already seen two members resign and two more suspend their activities (one due to corruption allegations). But on Friday, as calls for the election’s cancellation increased and officials frantically rushed to reach a deal, another CEP member threatened to resign. It would have left the institution without a quorum, rendering it unable to legally sign off on election results.