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Haiti Relief and Reconstruction Watch Blog
While most of the media – from news wires, papers, and TV and radio broadcasts, to entertainment and gossip programs and blogs – focused on musician Wyclef Jean’s announcement that he would run for president of Haiti, numerous other, less well-known (outside of Haiti, anyway) candidates entered the presidential race, little noticed by the press.
A Miami Herald article over the weekend described the entry of 34 candidates, who include Jacques Edouard Alexis, the Prime Minister who was ousted in 2008 during the food price spike; Jude Celestin, “founder and executive director of the government’s road-building outfit, the National Center of Equipment” on the INITE ticket; former first-lady Mirlande Manigat, (the wife of former puppet president and anti-Aristide activist Leslie Manigat); and Yvon Neptune, former prime minister who was ousted from his office in the 2004 coup d’etat against President Aristide, and later imprisoned on bogus charges relating to a “massacre” (supposedly state-sanctioned) that never took place. Perhaps because the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) is continuing to arbitrarily keep Aristide’s party, Fanmi Lavalas (FL), and 14 other parties off the ballot as the November elections draw near, Neptune has announced he will run as the candidate for the Haitians for Haiti Party.
As we’ve mentioned several times already, the CEP has acted as a new political guardian of the electoral process in Haiti, barring FL and these other parties from senatorial elections last year and continuing, despite the many months that have gone by in which the Council could have worked with the political parties to resolve any “technical” criteria that would prevent them from running candidates. The CEP may not be done purging candidates from the upcoming elections, however, as the Miami Herald reports in a separate article today – it has until August 17 to rule on the eligibility of Jean, Neptune, Alexis, and the other individual candidates who have filed:
But while some in the international community are optimistic of the increasing momentum, others are waiting to see if the expected political fallout from the electoral body’s decision on the candidates’ qualifications will plunge an already quake-ravaged Haiti into violence or governmental crisis.
“This is a very volatile situation. The easiest thing they can say is `You are all candidates.’ But I don’t know if they will do that,” said Robert Fatton, a Haiti-born political expert at the University of Virginia.
Should it accept all or most of the candidates including Jean, former prime ministers Alexis and Yvon Neptune, and Leslie Voltaire, an urban planner and former Aristide cabinet member, it will make for a complicated race where anyone can end up the winner.
Well, probably not “anyone”, but it certainly would make it harder to predict, and the Herald is right to not to indulge in unjustified speculation here – as other writers have – that Jean or other candidates would be obvious electoral favorites. News articles have referred, for example, to Jean’s ability to “galvanize youth participation” without citing evidence, never mind that many of Haiti’s youth are too young to vote. Even if reporters have talked to some eligible voters in Port-au-Prince who who say they would vote for Jean, there are many others who are not enthusiastic about his candidacy, and how many fans Jean has in the countryside is yet another matter. It would not be the first time that foreign media have jumped to conclusions, with little evidence, regarding the popularity of presidential candidates in Haiti. In the run-up to the 2006 elections, news outlets devoted a good deal of attention to candidates – such as businessman elite Charles Baker and former death squad leader and wanted drug criminal Guy Philippe – who should have been considered long shots (they ended up with 8 percent and less than 2 percent of the vote, respectively).
The Herald goes on to mention the legal criteria that the CEP is supposed to consider:
At issue are the seven constitutional requirements one must meet to run for president of Haiti, and how the CEP will decide who among the hopefuls meet them. Will it lean on the side of a legal interpretation, or political influence in its decision-making as it determines the fate of some of the most high-profile candidates, several of whom face legal questions about their qualifications to run?
Alexis risks possible disqualification due to his party, Mobilization for the Progress of Haiti.
MPH was founded by Samir Mourra, a Haitian American, who has opposed every administration Alexis served in and who was barred from running for president in 2006 because he held U.S. citizenship. Observers point out that Haitian law forbids non-Haitian citizens from practicing politics in the country.
Then there’s the issue of the Haitian constitution’s requirements that to be eligible a presidential candidate must “Be the owner in Haiti of at least one real property and have his habitual residence in the country” and “Have resided in the country for five (5) consecutive years before the date of the elections” which could disbar several other candidates. The Herald:
Aside from Alexis, the CEP also holds the fate of several other high-profile candidates as it determines whether they meet the residency requirement. Among them are sometime-South Florida residents Jean, konpa star Michel “Sweet Micky” Martelly and Miami activist Lavarice Gaudin. All have pointed to their Haitian passports as proof they do not hold dual nationality. But their possession of a U.S. green card also raises legal questions about whether they meet the requirement of consecutive five years of residency in Haiti.
The five-year requirement has always been interpreted to mean five years of residency prior to election. “Legally, you cannot reside in both countries. Legally, they cannot compete,” Fatton said. “They have to make up their minds: Are we going to be legalistic and eliminate seven to eight candidates, or be political?
“This is a real mess,” he said. “It’s difficult to know what will happen until we have the official list of candidates.”
The article cites Monferrier Dorval, a law professor at the State University of Haiti, as saying of the CEP’s looming pronouncements, “Any decision they take carries risk.” It is not clear what risk is posed by the CEP abiding by the law and allowing for free and fair elections to take place, however.
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