Op-Ed / Latin America & Caribbean 3 minutes

Haiti Déjà Vu

Borrowing from Yogi Berra, when it comes to elections in Haiti, it is déjà vu all over again. The country's political elite is embroiled once more in a controversy that has delayed parliamentary elections for three years, still arguing over the composition of its electoral council (CEP) and the content of an electoral law.

Secretary of State John Kerry just pulled off a compromise to save Afghanistan's elections from yielding widespread violence. He might considering doing the same in Haiti. Here's why.

The terms of one third of the 30-member Senate were up three years ago and the Senate has been crippled ever since. The second ten Senators' terms will end by the end of this year. So too the terms of the 99-member Chamber of Deputies as well as the 142 mayors and members of local councils. The latter are functioning extra-constitutionally because they should have faced election more than three years ago.
As Crisis Group warned a year ago in its report, Haiti is now facing the specter of an elected president ruling by decree next January because everyone else's terms will have ended. That would not be very democratic and donors will argue that their funds cannot flow to Haiti if that situation occurs.

Who is to blame? The political and economic elite bear a share of the blame. They are the ones who either lead parties, finance candidates, hold office or call the shots from behind the scenes. They have declined to carry out commitments made in more than one church-sponsored dialogue for a compromise CEP and a required electoral law. Some of the current parliamentarians may rightfully fear that they will lose their seats once elections are held.

But they are by no means alone. President Martelly has not been willing to make the compromises required to ensure an election occurs. Some of his coterie seem to be relishing the thought of ruling by decree come next January. The business elite, which finally seems to be coming together to do more than lament the current situation, has allowed the situation to fester.

In the absence of parliament passing an electoral law, President Michel Martelly has gone ahead and set the election date for 26 October by executive decree and the still not fully constituted CEP has set dates for parties and candidates to register. But four of the country's major political movements with perhaps the largest number of supporters refuse to participate arguing that the agreement on a consensus CEP has not been met. They charge that new members named by the President to the CEP have not been the product of a political consensus.

The international community supports a 10-year old UN peacekeeping force and still finances substantial earthquake reconstruction aid for Haiti whose economy and government institutions were fragile even before the earth opened on January 12, 2010. Yet it has failed to harness its political resources to convince Haiti's leaders to hold the required elections.

A civil society and church-managed negotiation -- or more accurately the most recent such effort -- achieved a breakthrough on 19 March when an agreement was reached between President Martelly and a portion of the opposition. However, the agreement did not include the signatures of key opposition parties including Inite, the party of former President Rene Preval; Lavalas, the party of former President Jean Bertrande Aristide; or the traditional opposition parties of OPL and Fusion.

A key point of the El Rancho agreement was the formation of a balanced CEP and its absence is now being argued by the opposition as the justification for abstention. Yet, those parties also seem committed to an illusion that the international community will move to oust Martelly if the opposition does not participate in the elections. That is not going to happen.

High-level US, UN, French, Canadian, and Brazilian leaders, public and private, need to come together again to urge the president and the opposition to agree now on a consensus, balanced CEP and an electoral law. And Secretary of State John Kerry might carry that same message on a visit to Port-au-Prince, which thankfully is a lot closer than Kabul.

Otherwise, there will be no elections in 2014, a president will be ruling by decree in January, street protests and violence will follow, and for the long-suffering people of Haiti, it will be déjà vu all over again.

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