Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti

Elections in Haiti

Miami Herald Editorial

OUR OPINION: Haiti’s leaders must pull together in time of crisis

With Haiti still reeling from last January’s earthquake, its leaders should be pulling together in the country’s best interests. Unfortunately, the expiration of parliament’s mandate last week has prompted another predictable but tiresome round of political bickering.

Haiti’s parliament went out of business last Monday because the earthquake forced the cancellation of legislative elections in February. That has left President René Préval as the sole effective constitutional authority in the country, with no preparations undertaken so far to hold new elections.

The situation is tailor-made for political mischief, and some of Mr. Préval’s rivals have eagerly sought to exploit the vacuum of power. Longtime opposition leader Evans Paul has been among the voices calling for the president to step down so he can be replaced by an interim government that can organize new elections. That is a terrible idea.

Leaders must unite

An interim government would create greater uncertainty about the future and touch off a mad scramble for power as politicians jockey for position. Instead of fighting with each other and holding public protests against Mr. Préval, Haiti’s leaders need to unite in the common interest of organizing transparently free and fair elections in the shortest time frame possible.

Credible elections are always a daunting task in Haiti, more so now than ever before. The electoral registry hasn’t been updated since 2005. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of young people have turned 18 and the earthquake may have killed or displaced nearly a million people.

The electoral calendar is complicated by the expiration of Mr. Préval’s own term next year. He has agreed to stay in office until May 14, 2011 — five years from the date he assumed power — should an election for his successor not have been held by Feb. 7, when the inauguration is supposed to take place.

Work for credible vote

That makes it all the more urgent for the president and Haiti’s three dozen or so opposition parties to agree on a firm date for elections, preferably in November, when the original voting for president was supposed to take place. That’s only six months away, and there is much work to be done between now and then to create conditions for a credible vote.

Haiti will be able to call on outside help for financial and technical assistance and logistical support, but the country’s leaders must first agree on a timetable and an effective electoral apparatus.

After a meeting of the International Task Force on Haiti last week, Ambassador Albert Ramdin of the OAS said it’s up to Haitian authorities to “make the relevant political decisions and do so in a timely manner so as to ensure that there is a peaceful transfer of power when the time comes.”

Elections are a priority for Haiti, the only way for its people to get a new, legitimate and stable government that can lead them through the enormously difficult period that lies ahead. This is the time for the country’s political leaders to show that they can put the country’s interests above their own.

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