What’s in Haiti’s Future?
What’s in Haiti’s Future?

What’s in Haiti’s Future?

Remarks by Mark L. Schneider, Senior Vice President, International Crisis Group, to United States Institute for Peace Panel on “What’s in Haiti’s Future”?, 26 January 2011.

“What is in Haiti’s Future” depends a great deal on the next several days and weeks of decision-making inside Haiti. Haiti, its people, its leaders and its existence as an independent, sovereign country are rapidly approaching a moment of historic truth. From dawn on November 28 until the present moment, Haiti has resembled a driverless SUV carrying 10 million Haitians, its leaders fighting over the wheel, and aimed to crash into a brick wall.

The fraud, confusion, utter despair of voters and massive unhappiness of Haitians and international partners with the way the initial preliminary results were declared simply added to the speed of the car. In recent weeks, more voices have shouted for what seemed like easy answers – force the elected President to resign right now and replace him with a transitional government that the traditional elite and their parties would pick to re-run the elections; forget about elections and the constitution entirely and allow that government to run the country until recovery has occurred, or declare Haiti a ward of the UN, and given the incredible historical weakness and the disaster’s further decapitation of much of the Haitian governmental structure, even friends of Haiti seemed sympathetic to that outcome. We believe all of those roads lead nowhere except to greater disruption, instability and conflict.

Haiti needs what has been lacking since the earthquake: an end to the politics of partisan self interest and the adoption by all parties and all political leaders, left and right, pro-Préval and anti-Préval, of the principle of national reconstruction and national unity based on the rule of law and the Constitution.

Perhaps, just perhaps, in the last few days, there is a growing realization that not only is Haiti in danger of losing a one-time only $5 to $10 billion contribution from international donors for the future of its children and grand-children but also the independence that it fought 200 years ago to win for its citizens.

In December, the international community convinced President Preval and some Haitian leaders to accept an independent review of the first round presidential voting by the OAS and that verification panel produced what might be called a GPS for the out of control Haitian driverless SUV.

It basically said that initial results were fraught with abuse and the actual two candidates for the second round were Mirlande Manigat and Michel “Sweet Micky” Martelly, the latter with no government experience in his background whatsoever but the choice of a sufficient percentage of the electorate to reach the second round. According to the OAS verification panel, President Preval’s candidate, Jude Celestin, was found in the review undertaken by the OAS panel to fall from second to third place. That report was presented to President Preval and by him to the CEP and only yesterday was there some indication that recommendation might be accepted. If it is, then perhaps Haiti will have side-stepped the worst disaster and potentially a far greater degree of bloodshed.

Let me be clear that there is still an on-going process of review of complaints filed by individual candidates, both presidential and parliamentary, and there is the assumption which hopefully will prove accurate that the CEP will use the OAS report as the guideline for its review of the presidential tabulation. OAS lawyers requested by President Preval are assisting and monitoring that process. Hopefully, all Haitian leaders will speak out to have that conclusion to permit the holding a second round as the least bad option available now to Haiti in the time period required for a new President to be inaugurated before President Preval completes five years in office.

However the OAS panel did more than simply make findings with respect to the outcome of the first round. It also issued a series of important recommendations for how to avoid the failures of the first round in conducting the run-off. Those recommendations and several others that I will raise are essential to pump some degree of confidence and credibility back into this electoral process.

To the degree possible a reformed CEP with at the very least a new president will be a basic factor in rebuilding public confidence in the next round. That entire process would be enhanced if all party leaders were to agree that whoever wins will reach out to her or his opponent in the runoff and professionals from all parties to form the next government of national reconstruction. A government of national reconstruction would be the best way to convince donors to fulfill their commitments to help put Haiti’s hopes back on the road to recovery, its infrastructure – institutional and physical, rural and urban – to reconstruction and its devastated economy to recuperation.

So many of our recommendations from October still stand and are reflected in the OAS report: issue the remaining ID cards, insure that they are on the voters lists, post them on time in the communes so voters can verify their polling places, provide the lists to political parties for revision, provide adequate training to poll workers and ensure a massively enhanced supervisory structure with international monitoring from day one and right through to the signing of the tally sheets and the tabulation of votes.

Enforce the constitutional restrictions on the use of government resources in the electoral campaign and sanction all violators; halt the public carrying of weapons by individuals during the electoral period, and press for a post election agreement on constitutional and electoral law reforms.

The best scenario, at this stage that stands to deter street violence and put a government in place to lead reconstruction as soon as possible:

  • President Préval needs to understand that his best legacy at this stage will be that he hands over power to an elected government for a second time;
  • In that light, he publicly accepts the OAS report and urges all Haitians to support its conclusions regarding the first round and reforms for the second;
  • At least some reform in the CEP needs to take place. Perhaps the Catholic Church should be asked to immediately name the 9th member of the CEP and agreement on a new consensus president for the council be reached and at least one more technically trained person be added to replace one of the existing members;
  • Parallel to efforts to conclude the first round, an ideally reformed and more credible CEP starts work on the OAS and other recommendations to improve the organization of the second round with full international support;
  • All parties agree on a new calendar for the second round.
  • The two candidates in the presidential run-off should be urged to commit to a government of national reconstruction encompassing all of the major political forces in the country.
  • Political agreement should be reached on Préval’s remaining in power until the new President is inaugurated, no later than 14 May.
  • Additionally, a comité de garantie électorale can be agreed upon and set up to monitor the work of the CEP.

How did we get here

In assessing election preparations in its October report, Crisis Group recalled Haiti’s history of past elections which had been characterized by fraud, violence and low voter turn-out. 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 the president, in this instance, outgoing President René Préval, added to the credibility challenge.

The 2011 electoral hurdles began with that history, as well as a bleak economic and social frontier  with  three quarters of the population living in poverty, most urban income earners relying on an unforgiving informal economy, and the inequalities of the elite-dominated society, as measured by CEPAL were the most glaring in the hemisphere. All this lies at the root of a perpetual crisis of confidence in the electoral process.

And this tottering institutional foundation existed even before the earthquake of January 12 that destroyed much of Haiti’s capital, its physical infrastructure and a tragic percentage of its human infrastructure as well and left 1.5 million internally displaced persons (IDPs). It also existed before the epidemic of cholera ripped through much of Haiti’s Artibonite food basket and later every department including Port-au-Prince. The tragic earthquake produced neither the change in the “all or nothing” style of politics nor the broad national consensus on reconstruction that might have eased the way to elections.

The parties and candidates, with international technical and financial assistance, struggled to energise and enable 4.5 million citizens to vote, hundreds of thousands who lost their identification cards, many among the IDPs living in tent cities in and around Port-au-Prince.

Beyond the difficult logistics, Crisis Group had underscored the confusion that was likely to affect the voters themselves.

  • Some 400,000 new national ID cards had to be distributed to voters who have recently turned 18, moved, or lost their cards, many in the earthquake, even if their names were already on the voting lists. In fact, somewhere just over half that number received new ID cards.
  • But on election day many were unable to find their names on the voting lists.
  • Training of some more than 33,000 party-selected poll workers to handle the eligible voters, was completed the day before the election or in some cases not all.
  • Voters had to choose a president from among 19 candidates, and 110 parliamentarians from close to 1,000 candidates. They were voting at 1500 polling locations around the country with more than 11,000 tables.
  • For many, these were completely new polling places since old ones were destroyed in the earthquake, or because they themselves are displaced in camps or communities far from their usual neighborhoods.

In the weeks leading up to the election, those key leaders in the Haitian government and the international community who would have been spending 24/7 to see that the election I’s were dotted and T’s crossed were also engaged in trying to contain cholera. It just put added straining on already weakened public administration and over-stretched international agencies. They were forced to manage emergency treatment of cholera victims, water purification, sanitation disposal and public health education and still carry off the final logistics for the November 28 election.

The failure of both national and international institutions to move more quickly to adopt a resettlement policy for the displaced persons is prejudicing Haiti’s chances for long-term recovery. It also has caused rising frustration and anger among the population that exploded with violence directed at the UN peacekeepers and even government public health centers. Today, only a tiny amount of the $5.3 billion promised for the first 18 months of recovery has materialized in Haiti in the form of projects that people can actually see and benefit from.

More work must be done to quickly move displaced people from tents to stable housing and from joblessness to employment. Haitians need to see more progress being made on building transitional and permanent housing, on removing more rubble faster, with more equipment imported for that purpose if need be. More Haitian laborers need to be hired – and paid – to help. Delays on making these policy decisions have to end, and donors need to quicken the pace in funding this reconstruction. Some progress and some achievements have occurred, as we have heard, but for Haitians living in those tents in those camps, it is not fast enough.

With all of Haiti’s complicated and seemingly herculean challenges, a few things remain clear:

  • More than a million Haitians in the 21st century should not be living in misery in tent cities, some dying of a disease whose origins were known more than a century ago, and which is preventable with that knowledge and access to clean water and sanitation.
  • Donors who have promised reconstruction help need to fulfill those promises – no matter what other demands on their time and money.
  • Personal power struggles need to end now with a commitment by every political leader to a national consensus on recovery and reconstruction, backed by an international community that demands no less.

Haiti needs to forge a political consensus and complete the electoral process. Together with the IHRC and the international community and the opposition political parties and other sectors, they need to come together for the good of the country and forge a path to a new government and an accelerated rebuilding of their country.

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