Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti

Hold new, open, fair elections

By Nicole Phillips and Nicolas Alberto Pascal

As a special team from the Organization of American States tries to resolve the country’s election impasse, the one solution acceptable to most Haitians — fair, inclusive elections — is not on the table.

Thousands of Haitians protested, demanding new elections. Several Haitian senators and 12 of the 19 presidential candidates want the same. Yet the United States, Canada, France, the United Nations and OAS, which say they are committed to helping Haitians resolve this crisis, will not support new elections.

Instead there has been a feeble attempt by the international community to quell the protests. The OAS monitored the flawed elections and originally said that “the irregularities, as serious as they were, [did not] necessarily invalidate the process.” Amid accusations that the OAS terminated its Special Representative to Haiti, Ricardo Seitenfus, after he was critical of the international community’s operations in Haiti, the OAS is heading back to Haiti to negotiate a resolution and monitor a recount of votes from the presidential election.

A recount of votes for the entire House of Deputies and two-thirds of the Senate seats has not been planned, even though those results were undermined by the same irregularities.

The elections that the international community helped organize and pay for were so deeply flawed from beginning to end that the only resolution that would be fair to Haitians and the taxpayers of donor countries is to start all over again.

Scrutiny must first fall on the Haitian Electoral Council, which was illegally hand-picked by President Préval and marred by allegations of corruption. The Council excluded 15 political parties from the legislative elections, among them Fanmi Lavalas, Haiti’s most popular party, and created a new requirement to disqualify Fanmi Lavalas from the presidential elections.

So no matter what happened on election day, the vote was already tainted. But the U.S. government nevertheless wrote a $15 million check to pay for these elections, despite warnings by Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., and 44 other members of Congress, along with Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., that the process would be a sham.

It was no surprise that there were reports of widespread election irregularities almost as soon as the polls opened on election day. In addition to ballot-box stuffing, observers and journalists saw countless people turned away from polling stations, unable to vote because their names were not on electoral lists.

At least 90,000 identity cards requested by voters could not be printed in time and tens of thousands of cards that had been printed were not distributed. An estimated 75 percent of registered voters were either unable to vote or stayed home. Such clear disenfranchisement, along with the dubious candidate-selection process, stripped elections of legitimacy.

Responding to the election crisis, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton rightly recognized that, “If you ignore the legitimate questions raised about the election, you create conditions for longer-term instability.”

Sen. Patrick Leahy said that the United States “must come down squarely in support of the Haitian people’s right to choose their leaders freely and fairly” and called for cutting off direct aid to pressure Haiti’s government.

But by supporting a recount of tainted votes from the previous flawed elections rather than supporting a fair rerun, the United States is creating the very conditions for long-term instability Clinton hopes to avoid. The only way to support long-term stability in Haiti is to support inclusive elections.

The Obama administration should: 1) announce that it will not provide any further financial support to the current Electoral Council or to any government resulting from this Council’s elections; and 2) offer to support fair elections under a new Electoral Council.

The Préval administration should: 1) ask the Electoral Council to annul the first round of elections and resign; 2) work with Haitian society to appoint a balanced Electoral Council; 3) allow all political exiles, including President Aristide, to return; and 4) run the elections the Haitian people deserve.

The time and cost of organizing new elections is a small price to pay to avoid wasting the $11 billion promised for earthquake reconstruction. The elections budget — $29 million — is less than two weeks’ expenses for the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Haiti. Fair elections would do more for ensuring a stable and democratic government able to rebuild the country effectively than peacekeeping troops ever could.

Nicole Phillips is a staff attorney at the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti and assistant director for Haiti Programs with the University of San Francisco School of Law. Nicolas Alberto Pascal is a graduate student in Global & International Studies at the University of California Santa Barbara.

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