August 19, 2015
On Sunday, August 9, Haitians went to the polls in long-overdue elections to elect the entire 119-member Chamber of Deputies and 20 out of 30 seats in the Senate. 1,621 candidates competed for the lower house, while 232 fought for the Senate. In Haiti’s capital, where I witnessed events on election day, the process was marred by a late start, problems with voter lists, and violence and intimidation, which closed a number of polling centers throughout the day. But just hours after the voting closed on Sunday, Haiti’s provisional electoral council (CEP) held a press conference, stating that things had gone well and that only 4 percent of voting centers had been closed — not enough to impact results.
International observer groups, foreign embassies and the U.N. quickly followed suit, putting their stamp of approval on the process. The Organization of American States (OAS), while acknowledging incidents of violence, proclaimed that these “did not affect the overall voting process.” The U.N. and the Core Group (which consists of the governments of the U.S., Canada, Brazil, Spain, France and the European Union) welcomed the holding of elections, and cited the efforts of the Haitian government in “assuring a conducive framework for these elections.” A day later, the EU observation mission, while more critical overall, hailed the elections as “an essential step towards a more robust democracy.”
But these statements of support contrasted greatly with reports in the local press as well as from a local observation team led by a grouping of human rights organizations (RNDDH). The RNDDH-led team, which had over 15 times as many observers as the OAS and EU missions, denounced the process as an assault on democracy and cited fraud, irregularities and violence in 50 percent of voting centers across the country. The group warned the turnout could be “the lowest ever recorded since the 1987 elections,” and cited massive amounts of fraud with political party observers.
Most political parties have denounced an election they see as unfair and controlled by the ruling party (PHTK) and those close to government. A broad spectrum of parties has called for a commission to analyze the results and propose a solution to move forward. Vérité, a new party associated with former president René Préval, issued a statement yesterday highlighting numerous problems with the election, but expressing a desire to see the process continue to avoid an unelected transitional government. PHTK, in a press conference the day after the election, denounced a “smear campaign” against them while stating that the elections were acceptable to move forward.
While not advocating for an annulment of the elections, the RNDDH-led observer group cautioned that the problems on election day were serious enough to question the incoming legislature’s legitimacy. The group urged “all actors involved at every level in the electoral process to avoid trivializing the facts recorded during this election.” They warned, “Be wary of anyone saying that everything went well.”
In the meantime, a cautious calm has come over Port-au-Prince as parties, candidates and observers eagerly await the announcement of preliminary results from the CEP, expected later today. Will elections have to be re-held in certain areas? Will turnout be as low as expected? Will the CEP admit to the full extent of the problem?
“Nobody knows what will happen next, the results will be the indicator,” one of the 10 remaining senators, Jocelerme Privert, said in an interview last week in Haiti. “The credibility of the process and the honesty of the CEP will be tested,” Privert added.