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Homepage > Regions / Countries > Latin America & Caribbean > Haiti > Haiti: The Stakes of the Post-Quake Elections

Haiti: The Stakes of the Post-Quake Elections

Latin America/Caribbean Report N°35 27 Oct 2010

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY AND RECOMMENDATIONS

Haiti votes in a month’s time – on 28 November 2010 – for a new president and nearly an entire legislature in perhaps the most important elections in its history. The government that emerges will need to manage a major part of the decade of recovery from the worst disaster ever in the Western Hemisphere. To do so, it requires the legitimacy that can only come from credible elections. But the historical obstacles – such as low turnout, suspicion of fraud and campaign violence – not only persist but have been greatly exacerbated by the 12 January earthquake that killed a quarter million people and left the capital in ruins and its government in disarray, as well as by the current outbreak of cholera. Polarising politics and a body organising the balloting that lacks full public confidence in its integrity add to the challenge. If the electoral process is to be as transparent, non-violent and widely participated in as it needs to be, the government must meet a higher standard than ever before, and the UN, regional organisations and donors like the U.S., Canada, the EU and Brazil must urgently press for this and expand support.

The task was daunting even before the earthquake destroyed infrastructure and created 1.5 million internally displaced persons (IDPs). Three quarters of the population lived in poverty, most urban income earners relied on the informal economy, and the inequalities of the elite-dominated society were the most glaring in the hemisphere. The weak institutional infrastructure was reflected in the protracted makeshift status of the Provisional Electoral Council (Con­seil Electoral Provisoire, CEP); a ramshackle political system featuring scores of parties unable to generate coherent policy choices for voters; an often corrupt judiciary and limited public security. Unresolved discord between the executive and opposition parties over the CEP’s composition and perceived bias in favour of outgoing President René Préval adds to the credibility challenge. All this lies at the root of a perpetual crisis of confidence in the electoral process. The tragic earthquake produced neither the change in the “all or nothing” style of politics nor the broad national consensus on reconstruction that would have eased the way to elections.

The parties and candidates, with international technical and financial assistance, are struggling to energise and enable 4.5 million citizens to vote, some who have lost their identification cards, and many of whom are among the IDPs living in spontaneous and insecure camps. Recovery has stalled at the relief stage, donors have been slow to make good many of their pledges, and what achievements there have been have not been well communicated to the victims, who have little confidence about what comes next. The threat of social unrest is thus real. While the UN peacekeeping mission (MINUSTAH), is a barrier to any major national disorder or direct attack on the electoral machinery, violent crime, including kidnapping, has risen in recent months, as gangs, some of whose members escaped jail during the quake, have reappeared. The fear of violence against candidates and campaign activities is palpable in parts of the country.

To boost confidence in the process, a great deal must be done in a very short time. The CEP’s actions need to be more open and those actions to be explained better to the parties and the electorate. The parties should commit to a peaceful campaign and to acceptance of the eventual results, and they and their candidates should begin to articulate substantive platforms that address national problems. To stimulate turnout, voter and civic education about the process and the stakes should be intensified, particularly among IDPs. The government and its international partners should accelerate the deployment of observers in far larger numbers than currently envisaged. And, of course, a climate of security must be maintained.

Once the elections are over and parallel to the new government’s priority task of pushing reconstruction and sustainable development, a national consensus will be needed on electoral and political party reforms. Donor financial and technical support will continue to be essential to carry these out. But the urgent requirement is to succeed with the November elections.

Reconstruction and political stability are mutually reinforcing, but the failure of either undermines the other. Haiti’s population needs to see significant steps in the next month, so that all eligible citizens can vote, their ballots are counted, and their choice of the next government accelerates a reconstruction that improves their lives and their families’ future. If the elections fail on these fronts, it is all too likely that stability will suffer, the investments the economy needs will dry up, and the humanitarian crisis will deepen. The government, the political parties and the international community must do all in their power to ensure such a scenario does not come to pass.

RECOMMENDATIONS

To the Haitian authorities:

1.  Meet the tight electoral timetable by:

a) ensuring that the CEP and the National Identification Office (Office national d’identification, ONI) have the resources to issue eligible voters their National Identification Cards (Carte d’identifi­ca­tion nationale, CIN); to post the voters list on time at each communal electoral office as required by law; to provide the lists to political parties for revision; and to make certain voters know where they vote;

b) accelerating the production and distribution of National Identification Cards, so all eligible voters have the required ID on election day; and

c) cooperating fully with the Organisation of American States (OAS)/Caribbean Community (CARICOM) joint election observation mission as well as domestic observers.

2.  Provide adequate training to poll workers and ensure supervisory measures are in place to enforce strict adherence to procedures during the vote and the post-electoral period to reduce irregularities and limit opportunity for fraud.

3.  Make electoral activities fully transparent and more efficient, including by naming a distinguished ninth CEP member, guaranteeing increased party, candidate and national and international observer access to CEP operations and by encouraging the CEP to take full advantage of international expert technical assistance from now through the post-voting period.

4.  Launch the voter and civic education campaigns immediately to instruct citizens on their political rights, assist them in making informed choices at the polls and reduce opportunity for manipulation by political spoilers.

5.  Enforce constitutional restrictions on the use of government resources in the electoral campaign and sanction all violators.

6.  Halt the carrying of private arms in public by individuals during the electoral period, investigate charges of weapons trafficking and take appropriate measures against those who violate the laws.

7.  Recognise the link between political stability and reconstruction and, with the support of the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission (IHRC), the UN and humanitarian partners, report regularly by radio and at information sessions in the IDP camps on progress in reducing crime in the camps and relocating families to more secure transitional housing; and declare a moratorium on forced removals from camps without alternative shelter.

8.  Urge all candidates to agree to participate, win or lose, in an effort to reach a national consensus in support of post-quake stabilisation and reconstruction, including, with respect to the political system:

a) completion of the constitutional amendment process in the shortest time possible to reduce the frequency and thus cost of elections and rationalise local government structures; and enact local governance legislation to enable the appointment of the Permanent Electoral Council;

b) commitment to designing and implementing an electoral institution plan, with technical support from the UN, the OAS and other international and civil society partners, so as to strengthen civil service and non-partisan appointments to an elections management body that can organise timely and credible elections, educate voters, implement party legislation and ensure accountability;

c) completion, in order to facilitate the continuous updates essential for a valid electoral registry, of the civil registry modernisation begun by the OAS, to include creation of a single office for all institutions involved in citizen identity and registration; and

d) passage of legislation reforming political party structures, financing and functioning, so as to increase internal democracy and financial transparency under the control of the elections management body.

9.  Ensure that the new Haitian government is prepared to carry out a smooth transition and assume new responsibilities when the mandate of the IHRC expires.

To the political parties:

10.  Build public confidence in the current electoral process by:

a) inviting all parties and candidates to commit to non-violence and non-interference in opposition campaigning;

b) refraining from verbal or other provocation that could increase political tensions, cause intimidation or stir social unrest; and

c) pursuing challenges to election results only through legal means.

To the Haitian National Police and MINUSTAH:

11.  Ensure a climate of security for peaceful elections by:

a) increasing presence and visible cooperation in the largest IDP camps; and

b) working nationwide to assure security for candidates and their followers throughout the electoral period and providing special hotlines for the population to alert authorities to violence or potential violence.

To donors and other international partners:

12.  Ensure funding is available for the full-strength deployment of the Joint OAS-CARICOM Electoral Observation Mission at the earliest possible date, provide sufficient resources and adequate training to civil society and community-based organisations to observe the elections and provide technical support where necessary to the CEP through the dispute resolution period.

13.  Give financial assistance to extend National Democratic Institute (NDI) political help for parties to include training a group of lawyers to assist them in resolving disputes on election day and during the vote tabulation period.

14.  Press the Haitian authorities and political actors to adhere to internationally acceptable election standards and support imposition of the sanctions set out in the 2008 electoral law on those resorting to fraud or violence to influence the results of the elections.

15.  Ensure the incoming government has the necessary financial and technical support to address urgent reconstruction tasks, including relocation of the IDPs to their homes or sturdier shelters in order to improve their living conditions and close the camps.

Port-au-Prince/Brussels, 27 October 2010

 
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