Martelly’s Historically Weak Mandate

04/05/2011 12:00am

Preliminary results announced by the CEP last night showed Michel “Sweet Micky” Martelly with 67.6 percent of the vote, while Mirlande Manigat received 31.5 percent. While news headlines focus on the “landslide” victory for Martelly, he actually received the support of only 16.7 percent of registered voters — far from a strong mandate — as early reports show Martelly with just 716,986 votes to Manigat’s 336,747. Reports indicate that turnout was even lower than in the first round, when it was a historically low 22.8 percent, and Martelly’s percent of votes (as well as Manigat’s) would have been even smaller were it not for the use of new electoral lists which removed some 400,000 people from the rolls.

Nevertheless, media reports have largely ignored the issue of turnout. AOL’s Emily Troutman reported last night that, “Martelly’s 67 percent of the vote is nearly unprecedented in Haiti and a clear mandate for his leadership”. Not only is the 67 percent number misleading in terms of his overall support, it is also far from unprecedented (as other reporters have also stated). In 1990 Aristide was elected with 67 percent of the vote, but with significantly higher turnout. Aristide received over one million votes in 1990 even though there were over one million fewer registered voters at the time. In 1995, Preval was elected with over 87 percent of the vote. In 2000, Aristide received over 3.5 times as many votes as Martelly did in the runoff elections last month. Even Preval’s most recent term began with a greater mandate than Martelly’s; in 2006 he received nearly one million votes with 700,000 fewer registered voters.

It is also worth noting that the electoral process has been deeply flawed from the beginning. Despite an aggressive and expensive get-out-the-vote campaign from the UN and U.S., the second round suffered from many of the same problems as the first: low turnout and a high number of irregularities. The legality of the second round remains in doubt given that a majority of the CEP’s members appear never to have verified the first round results.

There were also widespread irregularities in the March 20 elections. Although the US issued a statement last night saying that irregularities “were isolated and reduced”, some 15 percent of the tally sheets were quarantined from preliminary results due to fraud or other irregularities. This is a greater portion excluded than in the first round, and represents over 100,000 votes.

It is clear that a candidate that won only 4.6 percent of the electorate in the first round and 16.7 percent in the second round does not have a strong mandate to rule.  In such a context, one would hope that Martelly would seek to work with civil society and with his political opponents, especially those that were arbitrarily excluded from the elections, as Fanmi Lavalas and several other parties were.

Ever since the earthquake, Haitians have reached across political lines to join each other in the urgent tasks of helping their neighbors to rebuild their communities, and their nation. The continued political marginalization of parties and groups that are supported by a majority of people can only detract from the critical tasks at hand.

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