Elections loom: 2015 in Haiti will put democracy to the test
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.”
The numbers underline challenge.
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.