Getting to Elections and Beyond
Getting to Elections and Beyond
Op-Ed / Latin America & Caribbean 3 minutes

Getting to Elections and Beyond

The tragic death of the Brazilian commander of U.N. peacekeepers in Haiti recently adds another somber chapter to a Haitian transition in deep trouble. Too many are looking for someone to blame, when solutions are needed.

Lt. Gen. Urano Teixeira da Matta Bacellar's reported suicide came the night before the fourth postponed date for Haiti's national parliamentary and presidential elections. The political, logistical, financial and security impediments that required successive postponements of the elections originally scheduled for Nov. 6 are still weeks away from resolution. Now Feb. 7 has been announced as the new date for the first round of parliamentary and presidential elections, and hopefully, it will stick.

The frequent refusal of the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) and the Transitional Government of Haiti to take the technical advice of the United Nations stalled the electoral law, the electoral calendar, selection of candidates, registration and financing of parties. The CEP barely acceded to a competent director general in October. Constant delays now mean a $60 million budget will not even cover local elections.

The international community has to ask itself why it did not jettison the once-reasonable goal of having 'local Haitian ownership' of the process when the sad inability of the Haitian provisional institutions to do the job became apparent. The halfway measures dragged the process through multiple postponements and eroded the credibility of nearly everyone involved.

The Organization of American States succeeded in registering 3.5 million voters and promised them a 21st century ID card, but it was late in getting started and late in getting the cards produced and shipped to Haiti, partially because the CEP delayed its decision on the number of voting centers.

Security remains a major problem. The U.N. peacekeeping mission is blamed for a lack of security in Port-au-Prince that no one can ignore. While it clearly has not undertaken the disarmament and demobilization of ex-Haitian military rebels or urban armed gangs, the latter responsible for a wave of kidnappings and killings, the fault truly goes back to the U.S.-led multinational force that did not finish the job after the departure of former President Aristide.

Handed a half-secure Haiti, U.N. peacekeepers have been unable to shut down the criminal gangs, drug traffickers and politically linked violent forces. The vicious circle of extreme poverty, lack of jobs, governance or education has produced too many young men desperate to do virtually anything - including kidnapping or killing - to survive. The United Nations' limited success also is in part because its military and police forces are few (9400, less than half the number in Kosovo, with a Haitian population more than four times the size of Kosovo) and in part because the mandate was restricted to 'support' a tainted Haitian National Police rather than being responsible themselves for law and order.

'Lavalas-lite' potential

A few among the Haitian political elite now even want to delay elections because they don't like the opinion polls that show former President René Preval, now heading a Lavalas off-shoot, leading all other candidates. They had formed a civic movement to oust Lavalas President Aristide after his administration was linked to corruption and violence. Now they see the possibility of a post-election 'Lavalas-lite' government, and suddenly a democratic election seems less important to them.

Instead of another postponement, the U.N. Security Council should extend the peacekeeping mandate that runs out on Feb. 15 for at least two years and give the authority to its Special Representative in Haiti to take over international conduct of the election's final stages if that is necessary. The United States, Canada or France should provide additional helicopters to ease election logistics and rapid reaction forces - to reinforce the existing troops and police and to add a stronger security cordon for the voting centers and electoral network.

Everyone in the international community should be planning for the period after the elections by helping construct a platform of national dialogue and reconciliation for the next Haitian parliament and president to govern together. On issues like jobs, drinking water, infrastructure, schools and health, an initial national agenda should be prepared and made ready. Haiti cannot wait. Haiti cannot be abandoned. And peacekeeping cannot be done on the cheap.

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