Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti

Haiti must have fair, democratic new elections – and the ravaged nation can’t wait

By Beatrice Lindstrom, New York Daily News
December 8, 2010

Haiti Elections

Haiti‘s democracy suffered a double blow last week. The first was on Sunday, Nov. 28, when pervasive fraud denied hundreds of thousands of Haitians the right to participate in electing a new government.

The second occurred when observers from the Organization of American States and the Caribbean Community, both founded on the noble principles of supporting democracy, security and development, dismissed the widespread outcry of both candidates and voters and validated the elections.

These elections, coming on the heels of January’s earthquake and last month’s cholera outbreak, are among the most important in Haitian history. Voters were scheduled to choose a president, an entire House of Deputies and one-third of the Senate. These officials will have the responsibility of guiding Haiti out of the rubble.

The widespread disenfranchisement is thus especially alarming. A coalition of unofficial observers witnessed thousands of voters who could not cast their ballots because their names were missing from voter lists, because of inconsistent polling station hours and because ballots were incorrect or unavailable.

At Sylvio Cator Stadium in Port-au-Prince, we met a man who had a voting ticket issued by the Le Conseil Électoral Provisoire (CEP)  – the body responsible for organizing the elections – stating he was to vote there, but when he arrived, he was turned away by poll workers because his name was not on the council’s voter lists. Poll workers at another station said that they had turned away dozens for the same inexcusable reason.

Frustrations grew throughout the day as voters went from polling station to polling station without being able to locate their names on any lists, but saw names of deceased neighbors and family members listed.

Meanwhile, several locations reported ballot stuffing and tampering. In Cite Soleil, CBC correspondent Paul Hunter reported that a group of men trashed a polling station, specifically seeking to destroy ballots marked in support of presidential candidate Michel Martelly. Unused and marked ballots were strewn all over the polling station.

The day after the elections, the OAS-CARICOM Joint Mission issued a report that catalogues a similar litany of irregularities observed on Election Day, including that 4% of voting sites were completely destroyed, while somehow concluding that such gross disenfranchisement was insufficient to invalidate the ballot.

Instead of investigating the reports of fraud from voters, candidates, journalists and unofficial observers, the Joint Mission criticized the allegations as creating a “toxic atmosphere  . . . subversive of the process.”

This represents a shirking of the Joint Mission’s responsibility to provide impartial assessments based on the prevalence of fraud. Of course, the only data available were presented by the controversial CEP, which was handpicked by President Rene Preval.

In stark contrast to reports emerging from the field, the CEP found that only 56 of the 1,500 polling stations were affected by problems that merited invalidation. The CEP must have used an extremely high bar for invalidation, as our coalition of independent observers covered approximately 50 voting centers throughout Port-au-Prince and elsewhere, observing critical problems at nearly all of them.

The Election Day irregularities are just the latest in a long line of actions by the CEP to maximize the ruling party’s electoral success by excluding popular opponents and reducing voter participation. The CEP rejected 15 political parties from participating in the election’s parliamentary races, and efforts to re-register displaced voters were inconsistent.

In light of these problems, political parties, human rights groups and Haitian voters warned that these elections would be a sham. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) and 44 other members of Congress expressed grave concern, and Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) warned that the “absence of democratically elected successors could potentially plunge the country into chaos.”

Haitian voters deserve better. It is not too late for the Joint Mission to condemn the flawed process and call for new, fair elections. It is critical that it does so. Truly democratic elections are a prerequisite to ensuring peace and stability through the difficult rebuilding process that lies ahead.

Lindstrom is a human rights lawyer and a Lawyers’ Earthquake Response Network Fellow with the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti.

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