Can Haiti Hold Elections in 2005?
Can Haiti Hold Elections in 2005?
Table of Contents
  1. Overview
Briefing 8 / Latin America & Caribbean 4 minutes

Can Haiti Hold Elections in 2005?

Massive technical, political and security obstacles must be overcome very quickly or Haiti's elections -- municipal and local in October, parliamentary and presidential in November -- will have to be postponed.

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I. Overview

Massive technical, political and security obstacles must be overcome very quickly or Haiti's elections -- municipal and local in October, parliamentary and presidential in November -- will have to be postponed. In particular the UN mission (MINUSTAH), other international actors and the transitional government need to move faster at registering voters, persuading the failed state's citizens that the exercise is meaningful, and disarming both urban gangs and former military. Otherwise, turnout is likely to be unsatisfactory, credibility of the outcome will suffer, and the government's legitimacy will be in question.

Eighteen months after former President Aristide was forced out of the country, Haiti remains insecure and volatile. Equally disturbing is the disenchantment, apathy and ignorance about the electoral process of much of the population, a reflection of the failure of the transition to produce new jobs, better services and greater security.

Credible elections are an essential stage in a successful transition, not the definition of its completion. However, the votes will mark progress toward democratic stability only if citizens understand the institutions they are to produce, the electoral process permits expression of the popular will, the electoral mechanisms from registration to vote counting and monitoring are properly managed, and security allows candidates who want to run and citizens who want to cast ballots the opportunity to do so without high risk.

MINUSTAH, the Organisation of American States (OAS), major donors, and Haiti's political forces must recognise that those conditions are largely absent today. Only urgent measures to create them can possibly produce elections accepted by the majority of Haitians and by the international community. MINUSTAH and the OAS believe that those measures will be taken, and adequate elections held. The legitimacy of the next government and not necessarily adherence to an ambitious calendar set months ago by the country Provisional Electoral Council (CEP), however, is the beacon that needs to be pursued.

The critical pre-electoral conditions essentially will have to be in place by the date the CEP sets for the start of the actual campaign -- likely the end of August. Otherwise, a new calendar should be set, initially postponing local elections in a way that still permits the new government to take office, as planned on 7 February 2006. However, even that date should not be considered absolute if conditions are so poor that elections would be forced and badly flawed.

Security. Sufficient security must exist to permit the political process to unfold in relative safety throughout the country. Criminal but also political kidnappings by urban armed gangs have reached historic highs. There have been almost 800 killings, including the victims of political, drug-inspired, and turf-related battles, since September 2004. Citizens do not feel safe in most neighbourhoods of Port-au-Prince, which contains almost a third of all voters.

MINUSTAH should continue its recent more active tactics to counter and confront -- but in a more targeted fashion -- the armed gangs in the vast slums that are home to the majority of the capital's inhabitants. That requires more troops, particularly the rapid reaction force the Security Council approved in June. Time is running out, and the U.S., France and Canada -- the major participants in the multi-national interim force that undertook the initial phase of peacekeeping in 2004 -- should offer mobile forces to bolster MINUSTAH and expand its civilian police (CIVPOL) component now.

By the start of the campaign, MINUSTAH and its CIVPOL also will have to enforce the Security Council mandate to vet the Haitian National Police, whose bad elements both stain that force and tarnish the UN image in the country.

Disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) of the former Haitian military is needed nationwide, even if they are now only small disconnected bands, and a similar process should be instituted for the urban gangs, most of whose members are young, desperate and being used by others. Both processes should involve benefits for compliance and the full force of law for defiance.

Political Participation. Civic education has not explained to many citizens the rationale for elections; nor has the on-again, off-again national dialogue produced a common agenda for the future. The absence of compromise has been underscored by the transitional government's use of its power to persecute former Lavalas leaders and supporters, such as Yvon Neptune, mostly without charge or trial. Remedying denial of due process is vital if Lavalas moderates are to be encouraged to break with the party's hardliners and participate in the elections.

Electoral Process. UN and OAS support for holding the elections was slow to develop, largely because of the political manoeuvres of the CEP itself, which has not yet issued rules on party financing, defined the procedures for appeals, or picked the date when campaigning is to begin. The electoral law was not passed until 3 February 2005, registration began in April but at the end of July many registration centres were not yet open. By 28 July and with registration scheduled to end on 9 August, some 870,000 voters, one fifth of the estimated total, had registered, and none had yet received the new national identity card required to vote. Nor have any parties yet fully met the requirements to field candidates; the CEP will have to extend the registration deadline or otherwise amend its requirements for any parties to participate.

Funding, planning for and training national and international monitors as well as organising their safety are other parts of the electoral process which remain up in the air, though Recent pledges appear to have reduced the shortfall in the $60.7 million election budget to less than $4 million.

Elections in Haiti must not be seen as a box to be ticked off, regardless of their credibility -- the concluding chapter of the transition permitting peacekeepers to exit and donors to shift priorities. The country requires a long-term international commitment. If the current timetable cannot be respected, however, a temporary postponement, initially of the local elections and not only extension of the registration process, will be required. The constitutionally designated date of 7 February 2006, when the new president and parliament are to be sworn-in, could also be postponed if necessary. In a country that is slipping every day towards permanent failed state status and whose constitution has been largely ignored for years, keeping a symbolic date must not be the first priority.

Port-au-Prince/Brussels, 3 August 2005

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