May 27, 2016
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.
The biggest fear at this point, for PHTK and its supporters, would be an exclusion of their candidate, Jovenel Moise. Pitit Dessalines, who has been monitoring the work of the verification commission, has called for his exclusion under the electoral law, but it remains to be seen if the commission will report proof of significant fraud. It is also likely that more candidates than just Moise benefitted from at least some level of fraud.
For Jude Celestin and the G8 (a coalition of candidates that emerged after the October vote), the verification commission’s report will be a test of their unity. After failing to rally around a single opposition candidate before the election, the G8’s formation showed the possibilities of a united opposition. Still, Celestin’s LAPEH party has suggested they may find themselves in the streets with PHTK if new elections are called. Reports of the group’s demise have been frequent, but they have publicly maintained a mostly united front. That may not still be the case next week.
Once the commission releases its report, the next steps will fall to the recently installed electoral council (CEP). It will be up to the CEP to set the electoral schedule, though Privert has previously indicated that elections in October would make the most sense. This is at least partially because the terms of one-third of the Senate expire at the end of 2016, meaning that if elections are held late this year, they could include those Senators whose terms are ending, rather than hold separate elections.
The international community, especially the U.S., European Union and the United Nations Security Council, have all called for elections to be held as soon as possible, but a former Haitian government official recently told me that he believed the U.S. and others would support October elections, as long as the dates were set before the end of Privert’s mandate in June. While their preference is clearly for a second round with the same candidates, their ability to determine what comes next has been diminished over the last few months, despite the likelihood of international funding for any election.
If there is a new first round presidential elections, the CEP will also have to make a decision on if the registration for candidates will be reopened, or if all 54 who ran the first time will be eligible to participate. Some are definitely hoping that Jacky Lumarque, the preferred candidate of former president Rene Preval, who was excluded from participating in the October vote, will be allowed to re-enter the race.
Perhaps the only thing that is clear at this point, however, is that the commission’s work will not impact the currently sitting parliament, most of which was elected in the deeply flawed August vote. The political accord that paved the way for Privert’s ascension to the presidency gave the former Senator 120 days to organize elections – a deadline that is now just weeks away. With the commission still working and no electoral calendar set, this deadline is sure to be missed (this much has been clear for months already). The accord also stipulates that it is the legislature that will vote on extending the term of the provisional president, or selecting a replacement. Picking a fight with the legislature by reviewing its members’ legitimacy, right before they decide on Privert’s mandate, is likely politically untenable for the provisional leader.
The most likely scenario remains Privert staying in office until new elections are held, even though PHTK and its allies, including former paramilitary leader and wanted drug trafficker Guy Philippe, have made various threats of violence and political instability if Privert’s mandate is extended. No election (either first or second round) is likely to be held immediately, and throwing Haiti back into a political fight for the provisional presidency and the formation of a new government is not in the interest of the international community, or anybody hoping for prompt elections. However, depending on the verification commission results, PHTK may ramp up efforts to oust Privert.
For now, however, everyone will await the work of the verification commission and the electoral council. While the politics appear to favor a rerun of the first-round, it must be based on the technical analysis of the independent verification commission and the electoral council’s analysis.
No matter the outcome of the commission, political players on all sides will continue to posture, threatening greater political instability and violence. But those actions are as much about securing more favorable positions for an eventual election than anything else.
While these political hunger games continue, for most Haitians, a far more real hunger is setting in. Inflation is at its highest level in years, a crippling drought hammered crops, followed by torrential rains that led to mass flooding and further crop devastation. The economy has ground to a virtual halt. It will take credible elections and a representative government to address these more fundamental concerns over the long run.
The irony in all of this is that Haiti is facing the exact situation that the U.S. and other actors have long feared. In its ill-fated quest for “political stability”, the U.S.’ vocal support for Martelly and then for elections that Haitian civil society rejected, has crippled its own credibility and pushed Haiti to the brink. The continuing turmoil is the natural result of 5 years with a government of questionable legitimacy, with the strong backing of the U.S. and the international community. As the international official told me, “They have been fueling the mess and political instability…while they feared it at the same time.”