Presidential and legislative elections are due to take place on 28 November 2010. Legislative elections were due to be held on 28 February 2010, but were postponed as a result of the disruption caused by the catastrophic earthquake of 12 January 2010. The date of 28 November 2010 is the date required constitutionally for the election of the successor to President Préval.
Sixty six political parties are registered for the elections in which at stake are:
- 11 seats for the Senate and for which there are 96 candidates;
- 99 seats for the Lower House and for which there are 816 candidates; and
- the Presidency. 19 of the 34 candidates were validated by the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) for having met the eligibility requirements set out in the Constitution and the Electoral Law.
THE JOINT OAS-CARICOM LONG-TERM ELECTION OBSERVATION MISSION
In response to the invitation of the Government of Haiti for observers to be sent to monitor the coming elections, the OAS and CARICOM Secretaries-General decided to deploy a joint long-term mission. Though both organisations have collaborated previously when both had deployed election observation missions in the same countries (Suriname, Guyana, etc.), this decision was unprecedented. So was the decision to deploy it some time in advance of the day of elections.
This mission, the JEOM, commenced its work at the beginning of August with the arrival of a small Core Group of five persons. Their arrival coincided with the start of the registration process of candidates for the presidency, a critical phase of the electoral process which they observed. At present, the mission is composed of 16 persons - Core Group of seven (including administrative/financial and logistical personnel), and nine observers. Recruitment was delayed by two weeks because of the slow disbursement of pledged resources. The complement of observers will be doubled by the end of this month when the election campaign starts (27 September), and further increased by late October. The largest number of the proposed personnel of some 130-150 observers will arrive in mid-November for the first round of the presidential and legislative elections.
The Core Group has been meeting with Haiti’s national authorities, the members and technical staff of the CEP, candidates and political parties, including those boycotting the elections, and representatives of civil society, in particular those that will be fielding local observation missions. It has also been meeting with diplomatic and other representatives of the international community.
Four teams of observers are presently deployed in the provinces to monitor the current administrative activities of the CEP.
THE CURRENT PHASES OF THE ELECTORAL PROCESS
The selection of candidates for the presidency, the most politically sensitive phase of the electoral process outside of Election Day, was completed with a three-day delay on 20 August. There was however controversy over the decision of the CEP not to insist on the constitutionally required second of two steps needed by former Prime Ministers, Ministers and senior public officials to obtain the “discharge” - the state-issued certificate of fiscal accountability for their management of state monies. This decision was based on the impossibility of obtaining the imprimatur of the relevant Parliamentary bicameral commission as the mandate of the Lower House had expired in May of this year. The first step, the technical approval of the Office of the State Auditor, was deemed sufficient. A caveat was added subsequently by the CEP in response to the criticisms that it had trampled the Constitution, and to the publicly expressed unhappiness of one member of the Commission over its formulation of its decision on the issue. The Delphic caveat is rather intriguing as it indicates that the decision was taken “under reservation of the law”.
Despite the abovementioned controversy, and the complaints of non-validated candidates, including those of Wyclef Jean, the popular and well-known Haitian singer and composer, the publication of the final list of candidates did not spark any violent demonstrations as some had feared. Some attributed this to public indifference, others to the maturity and restraint of the Haitian polity. If one is to be guided by the complaints of some candidates, there may well have been some inconsistency in the application of the discharge requirement. This is a matter the election observation mission has started to look into.
The validated candidates embrace a wide political spectrum and offer political choice to the electorate.
At present, the most critical administrative and public information tasks for the smooth conduct of the electoral process are being carried out by the CEP. These include:
- recruitment of the electoral guards (recently completed);
- updating of the electoral registration lists;
- recruitment of polling station staff by lottery from among the names provided by the political parties and candidates;
- sensitization of the public with regard to the updating of the electoral lists;
- the start of the election campaign. This has been brought forward by one month to 27 September. It starts with what could be called a “silent campaign” until 15 October during which posters, banners and flyers can be posted or distributed. The “noisy campaign” of rallies, public gatherings, etc. commences thereafter and concludes on 26 November.
Elections are complex and costly processes. Not surprisingly, there are a number of major challenges to be overcome:
i) Logistics. The rugged terrain, isolated and difficult-to-access villages, and inadequate road infrastructure and communications constitute a logistical nightmare for the distribution of election material and the return of election results to central locations. The MINUSTAH will use its superior transportation capacity and manpower to facilitate the CEP in this area.
ii) Financing. The elections have been budgeted to cost US$29 million - $7m from the Government of Haiti, and $22m from the international community. There have been some delays in disbursements from the international community, but they are reportedly now underway, according to the CEP.
iii) Security. Election campaigns are usually high-spirited and in the past have been sometimes accompanied by a rise in tension and even incidents of violence. The PNH and the MINUSTAH are fully aware of this, know the “red zones”, and have been putting in place the necessary measures to deal with any eventuality.
iv) Technical capacity. The Electoral Division of the MINUSTAH has been providing technical assistance, as well as organizations such as IFES. An area that will require some attention is training for the poll workers and party polling agents provided by the political parties and which could constitute a weak link in the process.
v) Administrative. The presence of 1.2 million displaced from their homes is a reality to which both the CEP and the ONI (National Identification Office) must pay particular attention in their respective efforts to update the electoral registration lists and to register new applicants and issue or replace new or lost identification cards. These cards are used on the day of elections as a form of voter identification. A related problem will be the purging of the electoral lists of those who perished in the disaster and whose deaths have not been officially recorded. The electoral list closes on 28 September. All new voters who request an identity card after that date will not be included on the electoral list and will therefore be unable to vote on 28 November.
vi) Political. There is a high level of mistrust towards the CEP, displayed in particular by the opposition parties that have decided to boycott the coming elections. In their view, the CEP is incapable of organizing free, fair, transparent and credible elections, is partisan and not independent, dispenses favourable treatment to those close to the ruling political platform (Inité) established by President Préval, and is manipulated, they say, by the President who is alleged to be doing everything to sway the election in favour of the candidates of Inité. This mistrust is shared, to a lesser extent, by the candidates and parties taking part in the presidential elections as they all can recall examples of alleged wrongdoings by the CEP, not only with regard to the “discharge”, but also alleged irregularities and incidents that were said to have tarnished the partial Senate elections of 2009. More worrisome is the poisoning of the political atmosphere by the constant drumbeat of the print and electronic media about the “discredited” and “partisan” CEP, its “lack of credibility” and the alleged manipulation of the process by the President. In such an atmosphere any error or shortcoming of the CEP will be perceived as part of the alleged “conspiracy” to steal the elections. The most normal acts and decisions of the President related to the electoral process are adversely interpreted (e.g., the President’s decision to meet individually with the presidential candidates and to brief them on the state of the Government’s activities and its reconstruction plans were met with puzzlement, and in some quarters outright rejection). Comments by international representatives that are perceived as supportive of the CEP are met with widespread criticism.
vii) Voter Participation. This is at present a great unknown though there are some positive indications starting to emerge. Among these indicators and other contributory factors to participation are:
• the increased number of persons registering for their identity cards and the high turnout in some localities of persons seeking to have their addresses changed;
• twinning the legislative elections with the presidential ones will bring greater interest to the entire process;
• the fact that there is no clear winner at this moment may also help spark greater interest and, hence, greater participation;
• the campaigning of the legislative candidates will also help underpin interest for their presidential counterparts;
• the briefing given to the presidential candidates by the President as well as the ongoing humanitarian and reconstruction “problématique” may also lead to a more informed and programmatic election campaign; and
• the lengthening of the election campaign period.
The electoral process is moving forward steadily. The Provisional Election Commission is working hard to put things in place though there are shortcomings resulting from institutional weaknesses (e.g. the late acquisition of laptops for the updating of electoral lists process which was therefore done manually) or possibly lack of or poor apportioning of resources (e.g., low key sensitization of the updating of electoral lists process).
The CEP is aware of its negative public image and is proposing to take a number of steps to enhance its image and credibility:
- dialogue with political parties and candidates;
- greater public information and communication of information related to the electoral process; and
- simulation for the political parties of the two most sensitive remaining phases of the electoral process: the day of the vote including the vote count; and the operations of the Tabulation Centre where all the results are compiled and which is widely viewed by the parties and candidates as the impenetrable and inscrutable place where the results are falsified.
Last but not least, there appears to be a dynamic underway for the elections to take place. This is illustrated by several developments:
- the recent surge of persons seeking to obtain their identity cards, especially the youth. This could be result of the start of the presidential elections aspect of the electoral process which always brings heightened general attention and excitement, as well of the Wyclef phenomenon which shone a brighter spotlight on the elections and was said to have motivated the youths;
- political aspirants who had initially adopted a critical position towards the elections have now become candidates. The same is also true of some political platforms which are now indicating their intention to throw their political support behind one of the presidential candidates; and
- though the political platforms boycotting these elections (Alternative, Liberation, Rasanble et UCCADE) have just constituted a “unitary force” following a Conference of political, social and territorial forces on 14-16 September, a large number of their candidates for the legislative elections are intent on participating. The numbers of candidates of the boycotting platforms registered for the legislative elections are: 183 for the 99 Lower House seats and 20 for the 11 Senate seats.
- The JEOM will continue its observation of the different phases of the electoral process and continue its contact with the CEP, candidates, political parties and other stakeholders involved in the electoral process. It views its role not only as observatory in nature, but as well as being proactive and preventive. Its presence has been generally well received to date and is viewed in many quarters as helping to bring credibility and transparency to the process through its oversight functions. The JEOM and its leadership will do everything to live up to these high expectations.
Ambassador Colin Granderson