Elec­tions loom: 2015 in Haiti will put democ­racy to the test

The China Post - - COMMENTARY - BY AMELIE BARON

Af­ter three years of de­layed polls and sim­mer­ing po­lit­i­cal un­rest, Haiti’s rusty elec­toral ma­chin­ery is fi­nally grind­ing into gear.

By the end of the year, the im­pov­er­ished Caribbean repub­lic ought to have a newly elected pres­i­dent, par­lia­ment and lo­cal mu­nic­i­pal gov­ern­ments — a test for any de­vel­op­ing na­tion.

Haitians have not been able to vote in an elec­tion since popular singer Michel Martelly won the pres­i­dency in a con­tro­ver­sial 2011 poll.

Since then, pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nees have re­placed elected may­ors in many towns and the Se­nate and House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives have shrunk away.

But the long de­lay has not damp­ened the am­bi­tion of Haiti’s po­lit­i­cal elite.

More than 120 par­ties have reg­is­tered to take part in the con­tests, in a coun­try of scarcely 11 mil­lion with a check­ered elec­toral past.

Not all will field can­di­dates for all the races, but the sheer num­ber of fac­tions will add to the chal­lenge fac­ing or­ga­niz­ers in an un­ruly coun­try reel­ing from an earth­quake and a cholera epi­demic.

“We can’t re­strict a cit­i­zen’s right to form a po­lit­i­cal party,” sighed Mosler Ge­orges, ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of the Pro­vi­sional Elec­toral Coun­cil (CEP).

“But we have to ad­mit it’s go­ing to dif­fi­cult in lo­gis­ti­cal terms.”

Elec­toral Marathon

The num­bers un­der­line chal­lenge.

Haiti’s

Be­tween may­ors, town coun­cilors, deputies, sen­a­tors and the pres­i­dent, more than 6,000 seats are up for grabs in races spread across three polling days on Aug. 9, Oct. 25 and Dec. 27.

It shouldn’t have been such a marathon. Un­der Haiti’s young con­sti­tu­tion, most of the con­tests should have been fought months or even years ago at well-spaced in­ter­vals.

But things are rarely easy in Haiti. Martelly’s camp and the di­vided but determined op­po­si­tion have been at dag­gers drawn for years, and their stand-off dis­rupted the pro­gram.

Par­lia­ment ac­cused the pres­i­dent of try­ing to stuff the elec­toral com­mis­sion with his sup­port­ers. The pres­i­dency ac­cused law­mak­ers of de­lay­ing a vote on a key elec­toral law.

As months went by with­out any votes, lo­cal coun­cilors and na­tional law­mak­ers saw their man­dates ex­pire with no re­place­ments named.

On Jan. 12, the na­tional par­lia­ment fell into dis­use, with too few mem­bers to form a quo­rum to vote on leg­is­la­tion.

Un­der pres­sure from the street, where op­po­si­tion demon­stra­tions were get­ting louder, and from ner­vous for­eign cap­i­tals, Martelly is­sued a March 2 de­cree. There would at last be elec­tions. Pre­tenders to the pres­i­dency are sup­posed to reg­is­ter their in­tent dur­ing the sec­ond week of May, but al­ready dozens of names are cir­cu­lat­ing.

Long in­deed. Along­side each name on the bal­lot there must be the can­di­date’s photo, cam­paign logo and party reg­is­tra­tion num­ber.

Around half of the pop­u­la­tion is il­lit­er­ate and might oth­er­wise strug­gle to pick a name.

Can­di­date Num­ber One will be easy to find at the top of the bal­lot, he ex­plained, and: “Ten is Lionel Messi’s shirt num­ber.”

The coun­try suf­fered an­other set­back when a cholera epi­demic, widely and cred­i­bly blamed on the poor hy­giene of a U.N. peace­keep­ing unit, killed thou­sands more.

Now Haiti needs to pay to or­ga­nize elec­tions.

The CEP es­ti­mates the cost at US$60 mil­lion ( NT$1.8589 bil­lion). Haiti has found US$13.8 mil­lion it­self and for­eign donors of­fered US$24 mil­lion more — leav­ing a short­fall of around a quar­ter of the cost.

But de­spite the lo­gis­ti­cal and fi­nan­cial hur­dles, for most in Haiti the main threat to polling is the fear of fraud, vi­o­lence and in­tim­i­da­tion.

Ev­ery elec­tion or­ga­nized in Haiti since the fall of bru­tal strongman Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Du­va­lier in 1986 has been marred by un­rest.

To this day, the coun­try has only 12,000 po­lice of­fi­cers, and the United Na­tions is slash­ing the size of its in­ter­na­tional peace­keep­ing force.

Be­tween now and July, de­spite the ap­proach of polling, the Blue Hel­met force will be cut in half again to only 2,370 troops.

The for­eign troops are of­ten un­pop­u­lar on the streets, but Haitian au­thor­i­ties have come to rely on them.

Fi­nally, af­ter all the ex­pense and risk, how many of Haiti’s six mil­lion vot­ers even take part? In 2011’s pres­i­den­tial race, turnout was less than a third.

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