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Haiti President Calls for Electoral Verification Mission Opposed by International Donors

April 14, 2016 - 13:37

Interim President Jocelerme Privert has announced his intention to move forward with the creation of an electoral verification commission. But the commission faces significant pushback from both international actors who provide the bulk of the funding for Haiti’s elections and Haitian politicians connected to former president Michel Martelly.

Responding to the “unanimous expression” of civil society and political leaders, Privert declared on Monday that a new round of consultations would be held this week, aimed at establishing common terms of reference and identifying potential members for a verification commission. The body, which has yet to be formally organized, would be tasked with reviewing previous election results and electoral court decisions before moving forward with the as-yet-unfinished electoral process. A verification process is necessary, Privert said, to establish confidence and encourage “players to trust the [electoral council] and to participate in the upcoming elections.”

Political and civil society leaders have long demanded a verification commission, after earlier elections in 2015 were marred by violence and widespread reports of fraud. Official results from the first round of voting put then-President Martelly’s handpicked successor, Jovenel Moise, in first place, followed by Jude Celestin in second place. Celestin joined with other opposition candidates, demanding a verification and other changes to the electoral system before agreeing to participate in a runoff. On April 6, the coordinator of Celestin’s party LAPEH told the Haitian press that they would not participate in any second-round election without a verification commission first being established.

In response to Privert’s announcement of the commission, supporters of Moise have taken to the streets to denounce the move. They argue that the process will be used as a smokescreen to remove their candidate from the race. Moise’s hostility to a verification is shared by the U.S., the European Union and United Nations, all of which have come out against the verification commission and have urged Haitian authorities to complete the electoral process as soon as possible. “That’s one reason why the U.S. did not want to hear about verification … they know it will create fears” among Martelly’s supporters, an international official involved in the electoral process told me last week. Last week, some 60 leaders and organizations in the Haitian diaspora wrote to Secretary of State John Kerry, urging the U.S. to support a verification.

“We believe … a new assessment, or even verification, is not necessary,” U.S. Ambassador Peter F. Mulrean told the Haitian daily Le Nouvelliste last week, adding that additional financing for Haiti’s electoral process would be reassessed after seeing how the question of a verification commission was answered. “The last card to avoid a verification: no money,” said the international official. International donors have also withheld budget support from financial institutions like the Inter-American Development Bank and World Bank.

The stance of the international powers leaves many in Haiti puzzled. Pierre Esperance, the director of a prominent human rights organization and head of a local electoral observation mission team, wondered, “how can Haiti go to the second round without a verification?” Trying to push forward without a verification is likely to lead to a repeat of the street protests that rocked the capital almost daily in late 2015 and early 2016, and that contributed to the election’s cancellation in the first place.

“The verification process must take place. There is an awful lot of suspicions that there was fraud in that election process, and it would not suit any government that is elected without a verification process because there would always be that suspicion,” Sir Ronald Sanders, an Antiguan diplomat, told the Miami Herald last week.

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Haitian Prime Minister Rejected by Parliament, Why and What Comes Next?

March 21, 2016 - 14:50

On Sunday, in what had increasingly become inevitable, Fritz Jean, the provisional president’s choice for prime minister, was rejected by Haiti’s chamber of deputies. Needing 60 votes to gain approval of his governmental program, only 38 voted in favor; 36 voted against, one abstained and more than a dozen stayed home. 60 votes would be an absolute majority in the Chamber, but more than 20 seats are empty, awaiting reruns of flawed elections.

Appointed by Haiti’s temporary leader, Jocelerme Privert over three weeks ago, Jean’s rejection has all but eliminated any chance that elections can be held next month. Privert, who came to office on February 14 with a mandate of 120 days, has yet to form a new government or a new electoral council.

Why was Jean’s platform rejected and where do things go from here? It’s as much about political control as it is about elections.

The opposition to Fritz Jean’s approval as prime minister was led by the pro-Martelly bloc in the chamber of deputies. Deputy Gary Bodeau explained to Reuters after the vote that “We rejected the program of Fritz Jean because his nomination by President Privert did not meet the consensus requirements which should characterize the prime minister.”

The political accord signed on February 5 called for a “consensus” prime minister, to be chosen after consultations with both chambers of parliament as well as civil society. After 10 days of meetings, Privert chose Fritz Jean, who was promptly sworn in while awaiting parliament’s approval of his government program.

Despite having broad support among the main private sector actors, the pro-Martelly bloc (including former PM Evans Paul) almost immediately signaled its rejection of Jean.

There are a few theories as to why.

Privert, who is a member of former-president Rene Preval’s political party and was a minister under Aristide in the early 2000s, chose a prime minister from a similar political current; Jean was head of the Central Bank under Aristide.

Though much of the criticism, such as branding this a Fanmi Lavalas “coup,” was clearly classic red-baiting, the pro-Martelly lawmakers had reason to worry.

After benefitting from the deep pockets of running a campaign while controlling the presidency, the Martelly bloc saw itself being excluded from the government. The provisional government would exert control over the continuation of the electoral process; whether or not there would be an electoral verification commission and the composition of the new electoral council.

Pressure was continuing to build from civil society and many political parties for an independent verification commission. Privert has signaled his opening to such an endeavor. The only political movement that has opposed such a commission is the one supporting Jovenel Moise, Martelly’s handpicked successor. Official results showed Moise in first place, but he has been dogged by allegations of fraud ever since.

If the pro-Martelly bloc failed to maintain some control over the government, the likelihood of a verification commission taking place, and either removing Moise from the race, or calling for entirely new first-round elections, would be significantly greater.

But it’s not all about the elections.

When Privert was sworn in as provisional president, very few political actors in Haiti believed he would be able to accomplish all that was needed in just 120 days. Many saw, from the beginning, that there would need to be either a new provisional leader after 120 days, or a new political agreement that would extend the mandate.

Both sides have accused the other of wanting to stall the process so as to force this next move. The pro-Martelly bloc accuses Privert of purposely choosing a prime minister that had little chance of success, in order to avoid any possibility of having elections in April and to extend his mandate. On the other hand, those supportive of Privert accuse the pro-Martelly bloc of blocking the prime minister in order to run out Privert’s 120 days, with the hope of taking control of the provisional presidency for themselves.

While the prime minister post remains unfilled, so too does the presidency of the Senate. When Privert resigned his senate seat to become provisional president, it left an opening at the top of the institution. The fight for that seat provides important context. Youri Latortue, who tried and failed to become Senate president in January (Privert got the votes), still aspires to the leadership position. If Latortue presided over the Senate, and with his political ally Chancy Cholzer leading the lower house, the pro-Martelly bloc would be in a stronger position to determine the next provisional president. The accord states that if the mandate expires, “Where appropriate, the National Assembly will take the necessary decisions.”

If Latortue had been given the Senate presidency, it’s likely that Jean would have been approved as prime minister. But, the provisional government refused, recognizing the threat that Latortue could pose in that position. The usual horse-trading didn’t work, though accusations that Jean’s backers tried to buy support in parliament have emerged. If they did, it wasn’t a great investment.

Controlling the government also includes control over demands for an audit of the finances of the Martelly administration. Privert and Jean at times indicted they were favorable to such an audit, and at others said it was best left to an elected government. The economy is stagnant and public finances have deteriorated to a dangerous level. Whether legitimate or not, calls for an audit have only heightened the political tension; some of those supporting it are clearly interested in political revenge, while some opposed clearly are trying to protect themselves from greater scrutiny.

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Guy Philippe Threatens "Civil War" as Haiti Struggles with Political Impasse

March 21, 2016 - 08:20

The following post is cross-posted from the Haiti Elections blog

Senate candidate and former paramilitary leader Guy Philippe has threatened a “civil war” if the Privert government fails to hold elections on April 24. Efforts to restart the electoral process have been stalled by a stand-off between interim President Jocelerme Privert and pro-Martelly legislators, who insist on quick elections without a verification of the vote. Philippe’s threat to resolve Haiti’s electoral crisis through violence would seem very real, given the recent parade of militiamen sympathetic to PHTK on February 5. Despite his bellicose comments and his name appearing on the U.S. government’s Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) wanted list for drug trafficking, the international powers do not appear concerned by Philippe’s political involvement or his repeated threats of violence.

In a February 29 radio message commemorating the 12th anniversary of the 2004 coup d’État, Philippe accused President Privert of wanting to hold on to power beyond his 120-day term limit and warned of “a macabre plan, a Machiavellian plan to bring the country directly into a civil war.” Philippe called for “vigilance” on the part of former soldiers and others who had fought against the “dictatorship” of Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 2004, and declared that “there are people who are prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice if necessary.” Philippe concluded by saying:

Once more, we say no coup, no Machiavellian plan will pass. No one in power will be able to be my enemy. There’s an election that needs to happen, and it will happen. And if it doesn’t happen, neither Parliamentarians, nor the provisional president, nor anyone with any repressive force they know and have in their service, no one will be able to hold back this people, no one will be able to hold back these honest citizens, no one will be able to hold me, Guy Philippe, back. Thank you.

In a subsequent television interview at his home in Pestel, Philippe reiterated this message, stating that a civil war would break out if the “Lavalassian tendency” tried to stay in power. “I believe Privert has no choice; he must organize elections or he must leave power May 14.” Philippe also denounced Prime Minister Fritz Jean’s appointment as contrary to constitutional norms.

Philippe’s political position mirrors that of Youri Latortue and other PHTK-aligned figures, who have alleged that Jean, a former governor of Haiti’s central bank, is too close to Lavalas and is thus not qualified to handle the resumption of elections. At issue is whether or not the interim government will conduct a verification of vote on August 9 and October 25. Pro-Martelly candidates, including presidential candidate Jovenel Moïse, are widely suspected of having benefitted from fraudulent votes in previous rounds. 

Philippe ran for Senator of the Grand’Anse, finishing first with 22.5% of the vote on October 25. Violence, confrontations and allegations of ballot-stuffing were rife in the Grand’Anse during the first-round legislative elections on August 9. These disruptions meant that for the constituencies of Pestel, Anse-d’Hainault/Les Irois, Jérémie, Corail and Roseaux (5 out of 9 in the department) only 70.7% to 75.9% of tally sheets were received by the CEP’s Tabulation Center. The CEP ultimately decided to withhold publication of first-round results until after October 25, when Senate voting was re-run in Jérémie and Pestel (Philippe’s hometown). Philippe’s party, Consortium, ran candidates in the region and has two deputies in the new parliament. Louis-Jodel Chamblain, a notorious leader of the death squad FRAPH during the 1991-1994 coup, ran under the Consortium banner as a candidate in Les Anglais-Chardonnières, Sud. Chamblain served as Philippe’s lieutenant during the 2004 paramilitary insurgency and was acquitted of the 1993 murder of pro-democracy activist Antoine Izmery in a widely-denounced retrial after the coup.

Haitian human rights groups, election observers and opposition parties continue to call for a verification commission as an indispensible step before resuming the electoral process, even if this means extending the term of the transition government. Moïse and his parliamentary allies, on the other hand, insist that the elections be held on April 24, as called for in the political accord, and on the basis of the current results. They strongly oppose any verification commission. Philippe’s statements clearly place him in the latter camp. The political party he leads, Consortium, is reputed have had close relations with former President Michel Martelly. During the presidential campaign, Jovenel Moïse was photographed with Guy Philippe when he toured the Grand’Anse. 

Philippe’s threats of a civil war may be a bluff to frighten the Privert government. But the danger cannot be lightly dismissed, given the apparent influence Philippe has over recently-mobilized paramilitaries seen in Port-au-Prince and other towns on February 5. After the cancellation of second-round elections by the CEP on January 22, Guy Philippe had denounced opposition protesters as “anarchists” and declared that he and his men were “ready for war.” Days later, nearly a hundred armed men in green military fatigues claiming to be members of Haiti’s disbanded military paraded menacingly through the streets of several Haitian cities, as negotiations over the creation of an interim government were unfolding. Clashes between the paramilitaries and anti-Martelly protesters left one paramilitary member dead. 

The international community has been surprisingly silent on Philippe’s calls to arms. U.S. representatives in Haiti have made no comments about the threat of armed rebellion by pro-Martelly paramilitary forces or the inflammatory calls to insurrection made by Philippe. When opposition protesters committed acts of vandalism in late January, however, State Department envoy Kenneth Merten reacted by strongly denouncing these incidents as “electoral intimidation” that was “not acceptable.” The UN, for its part, merely "noted with concern the organized presence of several dozen people in green uniforms, some armed."

The complacency of the U.S. is all the more intriguing, given that Philippe is wanted by U.S. law enforcement for involvement in drug trafficking and money laundering. Philippe has been on a DEA fugitive list for years and has escaped numerous attempts to arrest him. A DEA spokesperson confirmed he remained a fugitive, adding that he has proven to be “very elusive,” and that the U.S. Marshalls had been given apprehension authority. However, a spokesperson for the Marshalls replied that this was not the case, stating given the “solid information” possessed by the DEA “about the subject’s whereabouts,” there was”no reason” to transfer apprehension authority. The DEA later acknowledged its sole responsibility for apprehending Philippe. Despite his rising public profile, however, Philippe has yet to be arrested.

Interestingly, the DEA has had the cooperation of the Martelly administration in other high-profile cases. In an interview with the New Yorker’s John Lee Anderson, a DEA informant said that no one was particularly concerned about allegations that Martelly’s associates were involved in drug trafficking or corruption, because "whatever else Martelly had done, he complied with the DEA’s local operations."

Human rights groups worried prior to the start of the 2015 elections that Haiti’s next parliament could become a redoubt of drug dealers, criminals and human rights abusers. The political involvement of Guy Philippe, who is on the U.S. government’s Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) wanted list for drug trafficking, and his political party Consortium underlines how real this concern is.

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Haitian Human Rights Leaders Make the Case for Electoral Verification at Washington Roundtable

March 10, 2016 - 10:17

On Friday, March 4, 2016 representatives from the Organization of American States (OAS) and State Department joined two visiting Haitian human rights leaders and two U.S.-based academics in a discussion on Haiti’s current electoral crisis. Organized by the Haiti Advocacy Working Group (HAWG) and sponsored by Representative Yvette Clarke (D-NY), the discussion focused on the causes of the postponement of the electoral crisis, the selection of Provisional President Jocelerme Privert and efforts to move the electoral process forward.

The five panelists made opening remarks and then moderator, Dr. Robert Maguire of the Elliot School of International Affairs at George Washington University, directed an open discussion among the speakers.

The event, in its entirety, can be viewed here. Following are excerpts from the panelists’ opening remarks and the subsequent discussion.

Professor Robert Fatton, University of Virginia

Professor Fatton opened the discussion by providing some useful background on the current situation, noting that President Martelly agreeing to step down on February 7 when his term ended and the subsequent selection of Senate president Privert as provisional president had “temporarily eased political tensions.”

Fatton noted that the accord, signed by Martelly, Privert (as Senate president) and Chancy Cholzer, the president of the Chamber of Deputies had tasked Privert with forming a new consensus government, reforming the electoral council and finally, implementing the recommendations of an evaluation commission formed in late December 2015.

“While Privert may succeed with the first two tasks, he will be hard pressed to accomplish the third,” Fatton argues. He explains further that the crisis stems from the “perceived illegitimacy of the whole electoral process,” and that without a verification commission – as has been demanded by many in Haitian civil society – “Haiti will not extricate itself from the current quagmire.”

In the clip below, Fatton makes these points and expounds further on sources of opposition to a further verification.

Believing that altering the results of the election or scrapping the process entirely will be politically untenable, Fatton instead puts forward an “extraconstitutional” approach that would see the second-round runoff opened up to the top four candidates. Privert will need the “Midas touch” to move Haiti out of the current political impasse.

Fatton ridiculed each side in Haiti for calling for the intervention of the international community when it serves their particular interests. But added that, on the other hand, the international community must “stop customary interferences and allow Haitians to devise their own history and make their own mistakes. Barring this Haiti will continue to be in a permanent state of crisis.”

Gerardo de Icaza, Director of the Department of Electoral Cooperation and Observation, OAS

Gerardo de Icaza, in his opening remarks, addressed criticism of the OAS and its role as an election observer in Haiti. “Without a doubt, don’t be surprised, you will be disappointed with what I say today. I know this. And I know you know it,” he opened. Icaza said that the OAS did see many irregularities during the election, but that they “were not a determining factor in the results that were presented.”

“What you expect from us is to come out and say there was a massive fraud, the results should not be accepted, everything should be scrapped and we should start from zero. Well, I cannot say that,” de Icaza continued.

De Icaza addressed the concerns around the issue of mandataires, political party representatives who have been recognized as one of the largest sources of fraud and irregularities during the election.

“Now, 900,000 mandataires. Who are registered by whom? By the political parties. Plural. By one political party? No. By many political parties. Plural.” Did they all vote and did they all vote only once, de Icaza asked rhetorically. “We do not know,” he answers, adding that OAS observers saw safeguards in place to prevent multiple voting.

“Did they all vote for the same candidate? I seriously doubt it. Because that would mean that there was a fraud that was so well orchestrated… that we would have detected that. And we did not see that.”

Kent Brokenshire, Deputy Haiti Special Coordinator, U.S. Department of State

As opposed to other panelists who focused on the current situation, Brokenshire used his opening remarks to harken back on his first tour in Haiti, during the early 90s. He discussed the connection he felt towards Haiti and how it has captivated so many others throughout the years.

Brokenshire pushed back on the idea that Haiti has not seen progress in recent decades, noting that while Haiti still is facing many political challenges, “the difference is beautiful.”

“These challenges are being addressed around tables, by politicians, by elected leaders. This was not the case before, you had people hanging on to raw power through military means.”

Pierre Esperance, Director, National Human Rights Defense Network of Haiti (RNDDH)

Esperance, who led a local electoral observation mission that was present in more than half of all polling centers in the country on election day, contrasted what the OAS observed with what his local group found and stressed the need for an independent verification commission before moving forward.

“Haiti needs the support of the international community…I think there needs to be a minimum respect for Haiti,” Esperance said. “When I say minimum respect, what do I mean by that? When we talk of democracy, what democracy are we speaking of? There should not be two levels of democracy – one for those that are advanced and one for those less advanced.”

Pointing to the high-level of violence, irregularities and “massive fraud,” Esperance noted that while the international community came to observe the election and make some recommendations, “they did not go to the lengths that we went.” But, Esperance added, “We are not the people who have the proof.”

The evidence of what Esperance alleges is, according to him, “sitting in the tabulation center and we are asking for that information to be verified.”

“If you put together an independent commission of evaluation, they will see that. The proofs are there. That is why we didn’t get a president elected on December 27 or January 24. So, when we ask for a commission of verification and evaluation, we don’t have in our head that a particular candidate will be expelled from the process. And it would be very difficult to put one particular candidate outside the process. And I don’t think that will change the results of the 4 or 5 at the top of the race but it will help us end impunity and corruption in the country. If you find the truth and seek the truth then we can organize acceptable elections,” Esperance explains.

Esperance, in a message to the international community, stated that “you cannot ask the Haitians to accept the unacceptable,” adding that “we are not seeking perfect elections, we want acceptable elections.”

Marie Frantz Joachim, Haitian Women’s Solidarity (SOFA)

Marie Frantz opened by moving the discussion to a different aspect of the electoral process: the lack of women in parliament and how that happened.

Despite 23 Senate candidates and more than 120 Deputy candidates, Marie Frantz pointed out that there is “not a single woman inside parliament.”

She discussed the role that Martelly has played, particularly by publicly and verbally abusing a woman at a campaign rally last summer. “Basically, he said that women are just there to satisfy men sexually, therefore women do not have a role in parliament or politics.” Therefore, she added, it is “not surprising that today we don’t have a single woman in the parliament.”

Another cause was the “the corruption that existed within the electoral system.” According to Marie Frantz, many women candidates, who were expected to advance to the runoff, faced electoral contestations at the electoral courts. But, she continued, “the people that they were facing had more money and they paid and they went through.”

“The person with the most money is the person that gets elected.”

Marie Frantz then addressed the question of a verification commission, stating that “we need to know the truth.”

“It’s when we have that truth that we can truly say we have people that have been elected legitimately. We need people who are elected through credible elections so we can have peace in the country. We need to establish a sense of trust between the population and political authorities.”

Finally, Marie Frantz concluded, “without women there is no democracy.”

Panel Discussion

Dr. Maguire, the moderator of the event, opened up the panel discussion by asking about the proliferation of political parties in recent years, which contributed to the problems with mandataires on election day.

Esperance responded that while Haiti has already had many parties, it is “during the Martelly government that we see a surge in political parties.” The explanation, he continued, was that Martelly wanted additional parties to strengthen his negotiating position with the opposition.

Marie Frantz then added that according to the law on political parties that was passed in 2014, it only takes 20 people for a party to be officially recognized. She added that, “a lot of those political parties were selling their mandataires to other parties … it was strategically thought out.”

Esperance added that it was not just political parties who received accreditation passes for mandataires, but that observer groups also received these passes, sometimes up to 17,000 of them, which were then turned around and sold to political parties. “That’s what we saw and that’s what we said. That’s why the international community is not supporting a commission for verification and evaluation because that’s where the proof lies,” Esperance concluded.

De Icaza first responded to accusations that the OAS had a double standard when it came to elections in Haiti. “Without a doubt the OAS does not have a double standard. No. We have 34 different standards. Not one, not two, 34 different standards.” That is because there is no one recipe for what makes an election free and fair, adding that that is “why the work with national observers is so important.”  

De Icaza clarified that the OAS has “never asked the Haitian people to accept these results,” but has only “stated our position and what we’ve seen.” “We have said, over and over, that whatever the solution is, it has to be a democratic solution and it has to be a Haitian solution. We have not gone any further than that,” he said.

“The problem that we have, for a certain sector of the population, no result unless we reach the cancelation of the results, will be acceptable.”

Fatton fired back, noting that there was a “fetishism” of elections in Haiti. “Every election that is fraudulent is acceptable, so at the end of the day, fraud becomes the new norm. And when fraud is the new norm, there is a breakdown in the electoral process, this is inevitable.”

Fatton discussed the recent history of “ad-hoc” electoral solutions in the 2006 and 2010 elections, and noted the current disagreement between local and international observers. “Let us not try and be nice and diplomatic, there is a fundamental breakdown of trust between the international community and Haitian civil society organizations.”

“One says it was a farce and the other says, well, it wasn’t that bad, it was acceptable. And the problem is the more you accept elections that are fraudulent, the more the system literally decomposes and that’s what is happening in Haiti.”

Fatton concludes: “But I guarantee you that if you have another election, a runoff between two candidates, whoever they may be,  without the commission on verification, an independent one, the new government elected will be in deep trouble a few months afterwards because it will have very limited legitimacy … this is a recipe for another crisis.”

Esperance then addressed the OAS representative, de Icaza, noting that while the situation in each country is different, their work in Haiti is based on what is contained in the electoral law. “There are many people who voted many times, particularly the observers and political representatives. That’s fraud. Help us construct democracy, help us end impunity and corruption.”

Kent Brokenshire, the State Department representative, who remained relatively quiet throughout the panel, then chimed in to underscore that “this is a Haitian process” and the U.S. doesn’t “favor any candidate at all, what we favor is democracy.” Though not directly addressing the calls for a verification commission, Brokenshire expressed the U.S.’ desire to “see Haiti move through the electoral cycle now and have a truly elected president to represent the will of the Haitian people, have a democratically elected head of state with whom we would be able to deal country to country.”

Pushing back on other panelists comments about the unlikelihood of elections being held in April, as the political accord had called for, Brokenshire added that: “In this accord they targeted April 14 [it’s actually April 24] as the day for elections, they gave the provisional president 120 days to complete that. So, they basically set out the rules for that and this is something that was done among Haitians, there was no whispering in ears there. This is something done among Haitians and something that we respect.”

Esperance responded that the accord did not involve the entire Haitian society and that the timeframe they put forward was “impossible.” “There is not even a 1% chance that a president will be installed on May 14, even in June it’s impossible. So what do we want? First, there will be a new CEP. There will be a commission for evaluation and verification. And I guarantee you that commission must happen otherwise there will be no election.” Even if the results do not change, we need to seek the truth, he added.

De Icaza then indicated that if Haitian leaders decide that a verification commission is needed to move the process forward, then “that’s perfect and the OAS will probably accompany this process.” But, he continued, it will issue a report that will show what we already know, that there were many irregularities. “Will they be able to put a number on those irregularities? I don’t know if they can do that scientifically, to tell you the truth.”

“For us, the difference between first, second and third is so clear that it would be difficult for those things to change. But if that’s what is needed and that is the Haitian solution, that’s wonderful,” he stated. De Icaza pointed out, however, that if a verification commission was formed, it would need clear timelines and rules to ensure its acceptance and success.

Marie Frantz responded by referencing the lack of trust between international actors and the Haitian people, but noted that these institutions, including the OAS, “have a great deal to gain by working hand in hand with Haitian society to put together this commission.”

“The lack of trust that exists between the population and these institutions…work to reestablish trust is work that is extremely important and I hope that the reflections we are having today will allow us…to reestablish trust.”

Accord or Discord? Political agreement eases tensions, but crisis persists

February 16, 2016 - 09:11

The following has been cross-posted from the Haiti Elections Blog. The agreement itself can be found at the original source. 

Update: Jocelerme Privert has been elected provisional president by the National Assembly.

President Michel Martelly managed to reach a political accord with the heads of Haiti’s parliament on the creation of a transitional government, averting a potentially dangerous political vacuum. In keeping with the deal, Martelly stepped down on February 7, meeting a major demand of his opponents. But the accord also gives a great deal of power to a contested Parliament and fixes a time frame for the transition that would appear to rule out any real investigation of fraud in the previous rounds of elections. With pro-Martelly members of Haiti’s disbanded military (FAdH) on the march, the spectre of another, more violent round of political unrest hangs over the agreement. Given the accord’s many ambiguities and contradictions, Haiti’s electoral crisis has yet to be solved.

The deal’s text, entitled “Political Accord for institutional continuity upon the end of the term of office of the President of the Republic and in the absence of a President-elect and for the continuation of the 2015 electoral process,” was finalized at 1am on Friday night, after 28 meetings between various actors. President Martelly, Senate President Jocelerme Privert and Chamber of Deputies President Chancy Cholzer signed at the National Palace on Saturday, February 6. The solution found by the Executive and the lawmakers was “inspired by constitutional dispositions” rather than directly derived from the Haitian Constitution, because the Constitution did not clearly indicate what was supposed to happen when a president’s term ended without an elected successor in place.

The political accord confirmed Martelly’s departure on the constitutionally mandated end of his term on February 7 and provided a roadmap for the establishment of a provisional government. A provisional president will be elected by the National Assembly (a joint body of the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate) within five days of the signing of the accord, while executive power will be exercised in the interim by current Prime Minister Evans Paul and the Council of Ministers. Parliament has already established a bicameral committee to receive and vet applications for the post, and if all goes well, a provisional president will be sworn in on February 14. The mandate of the provisional president is limited to a maximum of 120 days, starting from the day they assume office.

The provisional president is tasked with “redynamizing” the currently “dysfunctional” CEP and finding a “consensus” Prime Minister. To do so, the political accord gives the provisional president the responsibility to establish a broad consultation process with Haitian society and the two Chambers of parliament mandate is find a consensus Prime Minister, who will then form a government and be confirmed by Parliament. Although not stated in the accord’s text, the New York Times reported that Martelly had made “an important concession” during the negotiations, agreeing to allow a member of an opposition party to be selected as interim president.

The provisional president is also called on to convoke the various social sectors to delegate new representatives (or confirm existing ones) to the CEP. At present, the CEP has only three of nine members, meaning it lacks the necessary two-third quorum for publishing electoral results. Just as important, the credibility of the current CEP has been badly eroded by corruption scandals and its complicity in Martelly’s efforts to ram through fraudulent elections despite strong opposition.

Once in place, the “redynamized” CEP will ensure the “continuation of the electoral process initiated during 2015,” according the agreement. The steps to be taken include the implementation of the “technical recommendations” of the Evaluation Commission and the finalization of municipal election results, followed by the organization of “second round of presidential elections, partial legislative elections, and local elections.” The accord fixes April 24 as the date for these elections, with final results proclaimed on May 6 and an elected president installed on May 14. Many commentators, including Senate President Privert, have pointed out that this calendar is only tentative, since only the CEP has the authority to officially set election dates.

Although the political accord’s signatories claimed to be “seeking a broad consensus of all vital forces of the nation,” support for the agreement was not unanimous. Almost immediately after it was signed, the deal was denounced in the streets by opposition protesters. The Group of Eight (G-8) characterized the agreement as “anti-popular and anti-democratic” and the Front du Refus et de la Résistance Patriotique, a grouping of political and civil society leaders, which called the deal “stillborn.” The G-30, another grouping of presidential candidates, announced that it will challenge the political accord’s legality. These critics charged that the deal did not taken into account a sufficiently wide range of perspectives. Senate President Jocelerme Privert admitted that some opposition lawmakers disagreed with the accord reached by Martelly and legislators, but Privert said they would have to accept the majority's decision. “This is the democratic way,” he said. Some pro-Martelly legislators have also expressed discontent with the deal.

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Power and Money Rules in Artibonite Legislative Elections

February 7, 2016 - 19:05

Months before the August legislative elections last year, a small scandal erupted in the electoral bureau of Haiti’s Artibonite department. Nine months later Haiti remains mired in a political crisis, but how this came to be has faded from the headlines.

Tracing the election’s flaws from the beginning, in the Artibonite Valley, reveals just how corrupt the electoral process has been and how the politics of power and money have subverted the democratic will of the Haitian people and the elections’ credibility from day one.

In April, Louis Frantz Dort replaced Ralph Ederson Dieuconserve in the departmental electoral bureau of the Artibonite. “This suspicious change is evidence that an electoral coup is being prepared for the Parti Haitien Tet Kale (PHTK) in the Artibonite,” political activist, Délice Jacques, told the local press. The PHTK is the party of current president Michel Martelly, whom human rights organizations, religious leaders and the political opposition have accused of manipulating the elections for his own benefit and that of his allies. But in the Artibonite, this takes on a unique dynamic.

The PHTK openly allied with a number of political parties, but “then you have the local potentates,” explained an official with an international election observation mission, who requested anonymity since the process is ongoing. “It’s lord logic. They may not be part of PHTK, but the local leader wants to maintain control of his area for himself, not just for the party.” For the better part of the last decade, Haiti’s second-largest department, the Artibonite, has increasingly been controlled by Youri Latortue — a former senator and nephew of former Prime Minister Gerard Latortue — and his political party, Haiti in Action (AAA).

An advisor to President Martelly, Latortue was described by U.S. Ambassador to Haiti Janet Sanderson in a 2007 cable published by WikiLeaks, as “the poster boy for political corruption in Haiti.” The former head of the United Nations in Haiti referred to him as a “drug dealer.” A year prior, after speaking with a close colleague of Latortue, Sanderson cabled that Latortue “may well be the most brazenly corrupt of leading Haitian politicians,” adding that “The Latortue family is crawling all over Haitian politics.”

***

Haiti remained on edge in the lead-up to the August election. After the terms of the entire Chamber of Deputies and two-thirds of the Senate expired in January 2015, Martelly ruled the country without legislative oversight. Without elections, local officials had, years earlier, been replaced by political appointees. Despite pledges from the national electoral council (CEP) and positive assessments from international observers, the vote on August 9 was plagued by widespread violence, intimidation and outright fraud. It was, arguably, the worst in the Artibonite.

Votes from more than 30 percent of ballot boxes across the department were never counted, as voting was shut down by armed gangs. In other cases, ballots disappeared en route to the tabulation center. The Artibonite was the only one of Haiti’s 10 departments that failed to reach the threshold of 70-percent-of-votes-counted, an arbitrary and after-the-fact benchmark instituted by the CEP. When the CEP announced preliminary results on August 17, it declared that the entire Senate election in the Artibonite was to be done over and in addition, in eight districts where fewer than 70 percent of votes were counted, races would also have to be rerun. In five areas, the vote was so marred that not a single vote was counted.

Later, the head of the Organization of American States (OAS) election monitoring division, Gerardo de Icaza, said that the number of missing votes in August would have been "enough to void" the results had they been in a national race. But De Icaza suggested that because the August vote was for local races, problems could be handled at the local level by rerunning the races. In reality, many of the problems were never addressed, setting the electoral process off course from the beginning and undermining the legitimacy of the incoming legislature that was partially sworn in last month.

The CEP, in an attempt to assuage concerns over the August violence, sanctioned 16 candidates, excluding them from the electoral process. It also issued a communiqué, warning political parties involved in “ransacking voting centers” and “removing electoral materials” that further acts would lead to harsher sanctions. But it stopped short of any direct action against parties.

In the Artibonite, the CEP warned five groups: the ruling-party’s PHTK; Latortue’s AAA; the Prime Minister’s KID party; a smaller party, REPAREN, closely linked to Latortue; and the Bouclier party. This latter party was created by Calixte Valentine, an accused murderer and a close advisor to President Martelly. Its presidential candidate’s chief of staff was another Martelly advisor. The party was so controversial that in the days after the August 9 vote, a campaign advisor to the PHTK, Roudy Choute, seeking to distance his party from Bouclier, described them as “the party with the worst drug connections.” 

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Survey: Haitians Overwhelmingly Support Investigation into Election Fraud

February 3, 2016 - 12:32

Less than three percent of Haitians would have voted in the planned January 24 election, according to a new survey. As political leaders and international officials meet and discuss a way out of Haiti’s current political crisis, the survey sheds light on what the Haitian people would like to see happen.

Released today by the Brazilian Igarape Institute, the report, co-authored by Athena Kolbe and Robert Muggah, shows a tremendous lack of faith in the current electoral process, but indicates that it could be restored if certain actions are taken. Three quarters of all respondents said they would vote if they believed elections were free and fair. Getting there will be the tough part.

“Haitian citizens need to be informed of the process behind every key decision made for the resulting actions to have a chance of being viewed as legitimate,” the authors write. “And ordinary Haitian people need to be confident that their needs, opinions, and votes are driving the democratic process.”

After violent and fraud marred legislative elections in August, many voters were wary about going to the polls in the October presidential elections. 41 percent of respondents indicated they stayed home due to fraud or security concerns. Many also said that there was no point in voting and candidates didn’t care about people like them.

These concerns only increased in anticipation of the planned January 24 election. Only three percent intended to vote, with 68 percent citing “election fraud” as the reason why they would stay home. The election was officially cancelled due to security concerns, but it was this lack of faith in the process that had doomed the election.

Looking forward, respondents identified clear actions that could be taken to restore trust in the electoral process. Asked what needed to be done to restore confidence, the most popular answers involved conducting an independent investigation into fraud and intimidation in previous elections before moving forward. “Respondents, overall, preferred options that excluded Jovenel Moïse from automatic participation in a second round election,” the authors conclude.

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Why the OAS Quick Count Doesn’t Mean What They Want You to Think it Means

February 1, 2016 - 14:23

With less than a week left in Haitian President Michel Martelly’s term, and no elected successor to take office, Haiti remains mired in political uncertainty. As negotiations take place over what comes next, one key issue will be whether to go back and investigate the first round results before moving forward.

Many within the international community and the Haitian government are seeking to move forward as quickly as possible with the same two candidates that were scheduled to participate in the January 24 runoff. On the other hand, protesters and many within civil society are advocating a further investigation and verification of the vote.  The Organization of American States (OAS) dispatched a special mission to Haiti yesterday to facilitate dialogue on next steps.

The main argument against further verification has relied on the “quick count” conducted by the OAS on election day that was based on a sample of tally sheets observed from polling centers throughout the country.

The OAS count has been used by others to argue that fraud allegations are overblown. During an OAS council meeting last week on the situation in Haiti, Gerardo de Icaza, the head of the OAS electoral observation department, said the “results published by the CEP [Provisional Electoral Council] agreed with the OAS statistical sample,” and that the organization had conducted three other statistical tests that all showed the same top four candidates.

During an interview in December, State Department Special Coordinator Ken Merten told me that there had not been credible proof of fraud and the U.S. “understanding is that both the U.N. and OAS think the results were close to the quick count.”

Telegraphing why this matters in the current context, the European Union representative, speaking at the same OAS meeting last week, stated the EU’s desire to see the electoral process move forward, “considering the results of the process so far.” In other words, this means moving forward without any verification of the first round results.

But the OAS’s quick count does not mean what they want you to think it means. There are serious concerns about what percentage of the votes cast were legitimate votes but the OAS count sheds no light on this crucial issue.

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With Haiti Elections Canceled, Negotiations Begin for What Comes Next

January 26, 2016 - 10:29

Second-round presidential and legislative runoffs, scheduled for Sunday January 24, were abruptly cancelled on Friday, less than 48 hours before polls were to open. Ruling-party backed Jovenel Moise was set to face off against Jude Celestin, who had pledged to boycott the race. Protests against the election increased throughout the week, culminating in a massive demonstration that made its way to the headquarters of the electoral council (CEP) on Friday morning.

“Jan. 24 is no longer opportune for having elections considering the threats against the electoral infrastructure and on the population who would have to go vote,” said CEP president Pierre Louis Opont in cancelling the election.

But if the threat of violence provided the necessary pretext, the writing was already on the wall. Since fraud and irregularity-marred first-round presidential elections in October (and really, since the violent August legislative elections), a growing chorus of Haitian civil society had spoken out against the continuation of the electoral process as is. An evaluation commission, created by the president, found that only eight percent of tally sheets were free from irregularities or manipulation.

“It is crazy to see that it was contemplated to hold a round in these conditions,” on January 24, said a western official working on election-related matters.

The nine-member electoral council had already seen two members resign and two more suspend their activities (one due to corruption allegations). But on Friday, as calls for the election’s cancellation increased and officials frantically rushed to reach a deal, another CEP member threatened to resign. It would have left the institution without a quorum, rendering it unable to legally sign off on election results.

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Haiti Election Hangs in the Balance as Political Negotiations Continue

January 21, 2016 - 17:24

Haiti’s government, opposition leaders and private sector groups were in negotiations late Wednesday night, seeking an end to the impasse over Haiti’s coming presidential runoff. On the table is a deal that would delay this Sunday’s elections until March and provide assurances on how to move forward.  But speaking on local radio Thursday morning, current president Michel Martelly, who is constitutionally barred from running again, said everything was ready for the election Sunday and criticized groups who he said wanted to seize power by delaying elections.   

Less than 72 hours before polls are scheduled to open, it remains unclear if elections will take place or if a deal to re-schedule them can still be reached. Opposition parties have threatened to boycott the vote, alleging government interference and massive fraud in the October first round.

On the line now is not just the next president of Haiti, but how and if president Martelly will leave office and whether he will peacefully transfer power to his successor. Also at stake is the credibility of the international community that has backed the process with diplomatic support and millions of dollars.

An international official closely involved in the electoral process, who requested anonymity, said that moving forward with elections on January 24th would “ignore all improvements and lessons we have learnt … and will undermine once again the legitimacy of the president elect.” “More to the point, it is going to look bad for the international community.”

Yesterday the Haitian senate passed a non-binding resolution calling for the electoral process to be halted immediately. Senator Evalière Beauplan, who authored the resolution, told the Miami Herald that there was a broad recognition that “elections won’t work on Sunday. The actors are not ready, and there is too much turbulence.”

The move followed days of protests against the election.  A regular occurrence since the beginning of the electoral process in August, they have increased in size and intensity in the run up to the vote. Police have dispersed protesters with tear gas and a video showing officers beating and harassing detainees has been widely shared on social media.  Opposition groups have called for more protests in the coming days and denounced the police brutality. But in its address this morning, the government said protests would not be allowed ahead of Sunday’s election.

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