Haiti’s Elections: The Case for a Short Delay
Haiti’s Elections: The Case for a Short Delay
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  1. Overview

Haiti’s Elections: The Case for a Short Delay

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I. Overview

The transitional Haitian government’s postponement of presidential and parliamentary elections to 27 December leaves it still unlikely that a new and legitimate government can be installed by the constitutionally mandated target of 7 February 2006. Rather than rush the elections over the Christmas holidays – risking low turnout, insufficient international observation, and not enough time to fix serious organisational and security problems – the government and the international community should ensure a credible procedure by delaying the process one month, with the transfer of power taking place in March 2006.

Nearly 75 per cent of the eligible voters have been brought on to voter rolls, presidential and parliamentary campaigns are in motion, and a strong manager finally has been appointed to orchestrate the election. Unfortunately, a convergence of other factors has offset those gains. Few of those registered voters have received their voter ID cards, and violence and insecurity are daily concerns in many areas. In addition, last minute qualifying of presidential and parliamentary candidates has added to public confusion, civic education has been minimal and almost no one has been hired yet to count ballots. Those failures have led to two postponements already.

Delays and uncertainties have hindered campaigning. A final decision on qualified presidential candidates was made only on 11 November. Two contenders were disallowed because of dual citizenship, while the delays (some intentional) largely resulted from power struggles among elements of the transitional government, opposition by criminal and political gangs, and bureaucratic snags. The international community has been too slow in finding the right mix of carrots and sticks to force not merely timely but, far more importantly, credible elections.

Once the first, essential step of a month’s postponement is taken, action is needed on three fronts for successful elections:

  • Electoral restructuring. Immediate, meaningful pressure is required from the international community, primarily the UN, the U.S., France, Canada and the Latin American governments forming the UN Mission for the Stabilisation of Haiti (MINUSTAH), to end the internal Haitian disputes and delaying tactics. Not only presidential but also parliamentary and local candidates have to be finally confirmed, voting centres set up, ballots printed, voting officials hired and trained, and international observers enlisted for the entire process from campaign through the inevitable appeal of the results. If the process falters again, options begin with a new Security Council resolution mandating a virtual international takeover of the election process. This should authorise – in the event that electoral misconduct involves corrupt practices, criminal links or support for violence – targeted sanctions against those responsible, including review of their travel visas, assets and financial holdings in all countries. Given the many influential Haitians with dual citizenship in the U.S., France and Canada, the threat of that action might well encourage the kind of cooperation that has been lacking in the transition to date.
     
  • Security. MINUSTAH needs to begin implementing the existing Security Council mandate for disarmament and demobilisation of armed groups, starting in carefully selected towns in the countryside and in urban neighbourhoods. At the same time, the UN Police (UNPOL) should exercise their vetting authority under that mandate and direct the Haitian National Police (HNP) to suspend and detain all officers identified by UNPOL as responsible for criminal violence. If the transitional government continues to block that action, the Security Council will need to respond by giving MINUSTAH full control of the police. To strike a direct blow at the spoilers involved in smuggling and customs evasion, at least one port should be placed in international hands. That also might cut suspected financing of some political candidates by criminal networks. To demonstrate that MINUSTAH has the muscle for these actions, the U.S. should announce it has designated an “over the horizon” force of ship-based Marines to assist if necessary.
     
  • Political accords. If the elections are to be seen as opening a new chapter of political opportunity, efforts should be renewed to pursue a national governance pact. Reconciliation has been sorely missing from the transition process. Building on the election code of conduct the parties already have signed with MINUSTAH’s support, a focus on the post-election government could send a message that the old political stalemate has been broken. One option would be to pursue agreement among the key surviving candidates after the first round of voting on a few priorities, such as public education, a physical infrastructure element like roads and tackling corruption.

Port-au-Prince/Brussels, 25 November 2005

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