Sunday, April 19, 2015

Haiti Elections Clouded By Turbulence And Uncertainty

Haiti elections clouded by turbulence and uncertainty

Haitian President Michel Martelly arrives for the investiture ceremony of the ministers and state secretaries of the new Haitian government at the National Palace in Port-au-Prince on January 19, 2015©Hector Retamal/AFP
Handing over power: President Michel Martelly cannot stand for re-election later this year

Judging by the multitude of spray-painted names of political parties and candidates on walls across Port-au-Prince, there is no deficit of democracy in modern Haiti.

As the country heads towards an intense election season in the second half of this year, some ask instead whether there is a little too much.
Diversity in viewpoints is seen as a welcome change for most Haitians, many of whom remember the ruthless suppression of political opponents and of freedom of speech in the second half of the last century under the presidency of “Papa Doc” Duvalier and his son “Baby Doc”, who died last year.
Yet, since the departure of the dictators, elections have been overshadowed by uncertainty, kidnappings and violence, which observers link to disputes by criminal gangs over territory — and with it access to funding provided for political campaigning.

“Politics is very macho,” says Dieudonne Luma, head of tourism in Haiti’s northern province, and a rare example of a woman standing for election as a senator this year. “Violence is used as an excuse for men to be in charge.”

Under President Michel Martelly, a colourful musician elected in 2011, some raised concerns about the democratic transition. He replaced elected mayors with nominated “municipal agents” after their mandates expired in 2012.
There was also a growing stand-off between him and parliament, with elections deferred despite some mandates expiring in 2011 and 2013.

The executive and the legislature were unable to agree on a law establishing a framework for new elections and ultimately Mr Martelly dissolved the legislature last December and began rule by decree.

Pamela White, the US ambassador to Haiti, who many see as supportive of Mr Martelly, says: “I spent every weekend, day and night from very early till midnight talking to parliamentarians to vote for the bill [new election law]. We just could not talk them into it.”

In practice, she stresses that presidential decrees were scant beyond the one in January finally establishing a timetable for elections. There were allegations of manipulation of the Electoral Commission, but more than 160 political parties have now been registered.

“We don’t have a democracy, but an anarchy,” says a senior government official.

Compared with just 110 posts up for election in 2010, during 2015 there will be 6,000 decided by ballot. That includes all parliamentarians on August 9, a second round combined with presidential, municipal and local elections on October 25, and a presidential run-off — if needed — on December 27.

“We saw the parliament become dysfunctional,” says Sandra Honoré, the UN secretary-general’s resident representative in Haiti.

“[But] we are on course — and firmly — to ensure there is an electoral process that is credible, transparent, democratic and inclusive.”

She oversees Minustah, the UN peacekeeping force, which is being scaled back this year ahead of the elections, the gap compensated by a rise in the members of the Haitian National Police.

“The electoral process has always been challenged by incidents of violence,” she says. “We have the resources at our command, a quick reaction force and ample mobility to be deployed as is necessary.”
We don’t have a democracy, but an anarchy
Under the constitution, Mr Martelly cannot stand for re-election to the presidency, although some believe his wife may do so, and his son Olivier run for parliament. Both are accused of corruption by rival politicians, which they deny.
Others allude even to an eventual political role for Nicolas Duvalier, the grandson of Papa Doc, who has been an informal adviser to Mr Martelly.

Other past political dynasties are vying for power. Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the former leftwing priest twice deposed from power with US support, is back in Haiti after exile in Africa. While maintaining a low profile, he is linked to Maryse Narcisse, a doctor and activist.

“If she wins, it will be Narcisse in government and Aristide in power,” says Leslie Voltaire, a former member of Mr Aristide’s cabinet.

Laurent Lamothe, a businessman who was Mr Martelly’s prime minister from 2012 until he was forced to step down under a compromise late last year when parliament was dissolved, claims he has no current plans to stand again for office.

He is trapped by Haiti’s requirement for elected officials to mortgage their assets. The move was designed as a check on corruption and can only be lifted after approval of the legislature. Yet it also deters people from standing, while officials, including Mr Lamothe, are unable to run again while they wait for the charge to be lifted.

With just four months before voting begins, the situation is far from clear and there is scepticism over the attitudes of the next generation of elected leaders. As the Nouvelliste newspaper put it in a recent editorial: “It is time to teach people that public service is not a place for pillage, a milch cow.”

“There is no real candidate so far, no ideas, no alternative,” says Marcus Garcia, a journalist and broadcaster at the radio station Mélodie FM.

“The elections are necessary, you have to do them. But the question is what comes after.”

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