The following is a statement from Mario Joseph, BAI Managing Attorney, during a Haiti Advocacy Working Group (HAWG) panel. The panel was part of HAWG’s “Haiti Advocacy Week,” a series of events in D.C., aimed at getting Haiti more attention on Capitol Hill.
March 6, 2015
Bonjou. Good morning. I would like to thank the Haiti Advocacy Working Group for organizing this panel and for inviting me to participate on it. I would like to thank all of you for coming, and I look forward to our discussion about politics and elections in Haiti.
In light of the conference’s theme, “Haiti for Whom?”, I think it is worth posing the question “elections for whom?” at this panel. That is a good question. We hear a lot from the perspective of the Haitian government, the international community and the political parties. But we need to keep in mind that the most important perspective in any voting is the voters. The voters want three things: they want to vote freely, they want to choose freely from all eligible candidates, and they want that vote counted.
Voters have a right to these three things, a right recognized by Haitian and international law. The right is protected by a series of rules, in Haiti’s Constitution, and our laws. I would like to address three groups of rules that are particularly important for the next elections: rules on timing of the elections, rules on who runs them, and rules on who gets to be candidates.
This whole political crisis has been generated by a failure to respect the timing of elections. Regular elections in Haiti are clearly set out in our constitution, as in the US constitution, but those rules have been ignored. All our mayors are appointed and 1/3 of our Senate seats are vacant because elections that the constitution scheduled for 2011 have not yet happened. Then we lost another third of our Senate, and all of the house of deputies when elections did not happen last fall. This situation is, obviously, a serious violation of the right to vote.
The second important group of rules is who gets to run the elections. That has been the center of the political crisis the last three years. The real solution, according to the Constitution, is a Permanent Electoral Council. A permanent Council has never been formed in the nearly thirty years of our constitution, so the current administration inherited the problem. But President Martelly missed the opportunity to have elections that could create a permanent council by proposing a series of electoral councils that fell short of constitutional requirements in in very important ways. The current council is the least unconstitutional, and least controversial of the series. But it still raises important concerns, particularly about whether voters will be allowed to choose from all eligible candidates and whether their votes will be counted.
The third group of rules is who gets to be candidates. The electoral council and the government have been saying the right things about allowing all parties to participate, as has the US government. But a lot of those right things were said before Senate elections in 2009 and Presidential and parliamentary elections in 2010, which systematically and illegally excluded candidates from Fanmi Lavalas and other parties. In fact, members of the US Congress, both Democrats and Republicans, warned Secretary of State Clinton that proceeding with the exclusive elections would lead to exactly the political crisis we now have.
Another issue that is important to raise here in Washington is the issue of election financing. It has become a tradition in Haiti that most of the election financing has come from the international community, especially the US. While we appreciate the generosity, Haitians have the same concerns about foreign funding of elections that Americans would have. Voting is an exercise of national sovereignty , and should be paid for with sovereign funds. Some would argue that international financing provides the international community leverage to advocate for better elections. I am afraid the International community’s actual practice, especially the generous financial and diplomatic support for the predictably disastrous 2010 elections does not support that argument.