By Regine Theodat and Ted Oswald, Philadelphia Inquirer
Last Sunday, Haiti held nationwide elections that were anything but inclusive, free, and fair.
We have been on the ground since the campaigning began and observed at 12 locations during Sunday’s voting for president, the House of Deputies, and the Senate. Domestic and foreign powers pushed for elections by Nov. 28, but Haiti wasn’t ready.
Setting the stage for the disaster was President Rene Preval. Instead of seating an electoral council chosen by provincial governments, as the law requires, Preval handpicked a Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) whose only loyalty was to Preval and his party INITE (Creole for Unity).
The most egregious example of the CEP’s loyalty to INITE was its banning of competing party Fanmi Lavalas. It is the party of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and the one most trusted by the majority of Haiti’s poor. Further, the CEP did nothing to update voter rolls that have been stagnant since 2005 and include the names of thousands of deceased people. The CEP even failed to provide basic information to voters, such as the registration cutoff date.
Our office is in the community of Bwa Nef, within the massive slum of Cite Soleil, on the edge of Port-au-Prince. On Sunday, we visited 12 voting locations across the Department L’Ouest, from Cite Soleil to downtown Port-au-Prince to Croix-des-Bouquets – singer Wyclef Jean’s hometown. The residents of our community had been predicting that these elections would be a gagòt (loosely translated as a “disorganized waste”) and magouye (a “trick”). They were right.
Many voters, despite having an electoral card in hand, were turned away at the door of their CEP-designated polling place because their names were not on the voter list – though it was noted that deceased earthquake victims were still on the lists. Many of these voters had successfully voted in these locations in previous elections. Even Wyclef Jean was initially denied a chance to vote – though his fame eventually rectified his situation.
The elections were fraught with disorganization, corruption, and human-rights abuses.
In one location in Cite Soleil, historically the most tumultuous and dangerous area on election days, we were unable to even approach the voting area. An angry mob of people had resorted to protest because voting monitors supporting the INITE party refused them entry to the poll because they refused to support Preval’s party.
Many of the locations we visited were without adequate materials (tables, chairs, ballot boxes, etc.) to receive voters. Others opened more than 90 minutes late. And the checklists for the “Haiti Elections Kits” – stocked with supplies to set up voting places – were written only in English. We spoke to a voting moderator responsible for checking the list against the received materials who spoke no English.
Disenfranchised and ignored, many voters resisted the illegitimacy of the elections and found ways around the CEP’s failures and apparent malfeasance. Some voted without permission; others organized street boycotts on Election Day, chanting: “Arrest Preval and CEP.” Others sang Haitian freedom songs and prayed out loud that their children would not have to live in the same horrible conditions that they have struggled with since birth. Twelve presidential candidates held a news conference requesting the annulment of the elections.
The least we in the United States, as a beacon of democracy, can do is listen to these cries. We should pressure the Haitian government to annul Sunday’s elections and encourage inclusive, free, and fair voting that reflects the will of the majority.
Regine Theodat is a Haitian American staff lawyer with the Lamp for Haiti Foundation (www.lampforhaiti.org)
Ted Oswald is an intern for Lamp for Haiti and a student at Drexel University’s Earle Mack School of Law
Click HERE to See Original Article