Elections in Haiti

Elections in Haiti

Last Monday, February 7th, marked the 25th anniversary of the departure of Jean Claude Duvalier, sometimes referred to as “Baby Doc.”  Duvalier unexpectedly returned to Haiti last month amidst debates over Haiti’s political future.  For anyone following news of Haiti, the past year’s earthquake, cholera outbreak, hurricane, and political developments could be overwhelming.  We recently asked our supporters what kind of content they would like to see in our newsletters.  This article addresses one recommendation and attempts to bring clarity to Haiti’s complex political situation as it has evolved over the past six months.

Haiti’s candidates must achieve a majority rather than a plurality of votes in their first round of votes to win an election in the first round.  If no candidate achieves a majority, a second round of elections is conducted between the top two candidates from the first round of voting.  The Haitian President as well as the bicameral legislature are subject to these rules.

The Conseil Electoral Provisoire (CEP) or Provisional Electoral Council runs elections in Haiti, often with funding and support from the United Nations.  By last September the CEP deemed nineteen candidates eligible for the election, excluding singer Wyclef Jean, former Ambassador to the U.S. Raymond Joseph, and the Fanmi Lavalas Party among others.  The three leading candidates come from diverse backgrounds.

Mirlande Manigat, 70, is a former first lady of Haiti and a constitutional scholar.  Her husband Leslie Manigat was sentenced to death under Franois Duvalier and fled into exile where the couple met.  Manigat earned her PhD in Sorbonne and has taught at universities in Haiti.  During her campaign Manigat has pressed for dual citizenship in Haiti as well as a national literacy program.  Manigat is campaigning under the Progressive National Democrats (RNDP).

Michel “Sweet Micky” Martelly, 49, is known for his career as a konpa singer.  As a singer his shows were known to be raunchy and flamboyant at times.  Martelly reportedly opposed Haiti’s first democratically elected leader, Jean Bertrand Aristide, in 1991, but has not been much of a political force.  He is popular with Haiti’s youth who at times chanted “Tèt Kale,” or “bald head,” in support of Martelly.

Jude Célestin, 48, is a mechanical engineer.  He ran the National Equipment Centre (CNE) and was responsible for road-clearing and rebuilding after the earthquake of January, 2010.  Célestin did not appear publicly as much as his opponents during the campaign and is a relative newcomer to politics.  He campaigned under the Unity (Inite) Party, which is backed by the current President.

In the months preceding the official campaigning period and first round of elections, accusations were made that President René Preval was using government funds to support the Inite Party.  From Inite’s Presidential Candidate Jude Célestin, to the Senate and Chamber of Deputies, Inite’s candidates seemed to have significant amounts of funding.  Word of mouth or teledjol in Haiti reinforced the idea that Célestin’s campaign was benefiting from corruption.

The day of the election roads were shut down to prevent groups from roving from poll site to poll site and disrupting elections.  As a result, many Haitians had to walk miles to their poll sites.  Upon arrival many people found that their poll site did not have their name listed on the voter rolls.  In some cases the rolls had not been updated and were both missing people already registered and filled with names of people who died in the earthquake.  Some people could not afford to look up their poll site online and were directed to a second or even third poll site miles apart on the day of the election.  The process was so difficult and flawed that even candidates were affected.  The day of the election Jude Celèstin was forced to vote using a provisional ballot when his name did not appear at his own polling site.  Some polling sites had been attacked, others opened late, and some ballot boxes appeared full upon opening, but these cases were in the minority.

Mirold Edmond, a native of Gran Sous, was running with the Altenativ Party for a seat in Haiti’s lower house, equivalent to the U.S. House of Representatives.  His quest to represent half of the island of La Gonave ran up against the corruption of the Inite Party.  Members of APDAG reported payments of fifty Haitian dollars in exchange for a vote for Inite’s candidate.  During Roots of Development’s volunteer trip to La Gonave in November, Mirlande Manigat appeared to garner the most support of any presidential candidate.

Before polling sites even closed on November 28th, twelve presidential candidates called for “peaceful protests” against “massive fraud.”  Amongst them were Manigat and Martelly, but not Celèstin.  Former Prime Minister Jacques-Edouard Alexis even called for cancellation of the election.  Protests broke out and relatively minor levels of violence were reported.  In the following weeks Mirlande Manigat and Michel Martelly backed away from their initial stance at the press conference, as they appeared to perform better than most candidates in the November 28th elections.

As Haiti waited for election results, WikiLeaks published a memo from the U.S. embassy in Port-au-Prince stating that Preval wished to “orchestrate the 2011 presidential transition” to avoid being forced into exile.  Days later the CEP released preliminary results with Manigat receiving 31.37 percent of the vote, Celèstin at 22.48 percent, and Martelly at 21.84 percent.  On January 10th, 2011, the Organization of American States (OAS) announced that Michel Martelly belonged in the runoff election against Mirlande Manigat once fraudulent votes were discarded.  Media reports said President Preval found the OAS’ conclusion flawed, but after a visit by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in late January, the CEP announced that the second round of elections would be between Manigat and Martelly.

The second round of voting is still over a month away and President Preval has received a three month extension of his mandate.  Since Jean Claude Duvalier’s return, former President Aristide, ousted by coups in 1991 and 2004, has received a new passport and rumors constantly circulate in Haiti regarding his return.  Journalist Amy Wilentz recently quipped that President Aristide is owed 3 years and 11 months, yet Aristide says he only has an interest in rebuilding Haiti’s education system.  With so many controversial figures of the past and present now in Haiti, we will see a vigorous debate over long term plans for rebuilding Haiti.  As a small non-profit organization, Roots of Development looks forward to working with La Gonave’s leaders, whether they are newly-elected or simply motivated to change their local community.

All images by Ben Depp.

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