Back on a contested electoral process
Following a tumultuous end of 2015 and start of 2016 Haiti’s President Michel Martelly and the presidents of the two chambers of parliament brokered a deal in February aimed at resuming the interrupted electoral process and return to the path of democratic transition.
After growing tensions and protests, caused by the contested results of Haiti’s first round of presidential election in October 2015, the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) cancelled the second attempt to hold run-off elections, planned for 24 January 2016. The situation seemed difficult, but with only one day left in office, President Martelly and the presidents of the Chamber of Deputies, Cholzer Chancy, and the Senate, Jocelerme Privert, eventually reached a deal aimed at avoiding a power vacuum.
Under this agreement, Haitian lawmakers elected Senate chief Privert as interim president to lead a 120-day transition to end the ongoing crisis in the country and organize the presidential run-off election. The deal also stated that Privert must appoint a prime minister in consultation with parliament in order to pursue the electoral process.
The date was set for 24 April 2016 to complete the run-off presidential election and hold the second round of the legislative election in the electoral districts were elections were cancelled due to irregularities. Haitians will also vote for their local authorities.
If the election is successful a new president should be sworn in on 14 May 2016. This last-minute political agreement facilitated an honourable exit for President Martelly, and the choice of Privert, who is known to hold moderate political views, should bring appeasement within politics and society.
120 days to overcome the political stalemate
Since he took office on 14 February, Jocelerme Privert faced multiple challenges to install a functional government. While he did widely consult political stakeholders before appointing Fritz Jean as Prime Minister, after two weeks of intense negotiations the lower chamber rejected his general policy statement on 20 March. An appointed prime minister cannot form his cabinet or move forward with organizing the election without parliament ratifying his programme. Lawmakers who voted against said Fritz Jean’s appointment is a breach of the 6 February agreement that required choosing a consensus prime minister.
Immediately after this vote of no confidence, President Privert appointed Enex Jean-Charles as new prime minister. In less than 24 hours, both chambers of Parliament ratified his policy statement: he passed with a 20-0 vote in senate, and 78-1 in the chamber of deputies.
Enex Jean-Charles is a consensual figure, a longtime behind-the-scenes player in Haitian politics. He served as secretary-general of the council of ministers and as an adviser to several presidents, including René Préval and Michel Martelly.
While the installation of the new government is a key step to return to the path of the electoral process, the likelihood to hold elections in less than a month is now jeopardized. The delay has impeded the ability to meet the deadline to transfer power from the interim to an elected government by 14 May.
The interim government now faces some pressing issues to be addressed in the next three months.
Restore trust and improve security
It will be crucial to restore trust and confidence between political actors, and between the citizens and their institutions. This will be key to fully implement the recommendations of the electoral evaluation commission released after the October poll, and to create a climate conducive to a peaceful and transparent electoral process.
The interim government will have to halt the growing instability. Over the last twelve months, the Haitian National Police and the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) reported 1,053 cases of homicides, mostly concentrated in the capital of Port-au-Prince, and attributed to gang-related violence. Cases of kidnappings are also on the rise, with 44 cases registered in the past six months.
Resuming a flawed process
President Privert, his government and the new CEP are faced with the challenge of resuming an already discredited electoral process without further fuelling popular dissent. Today, the most urgent question, is to figure out which two candidates will stand in the run-off election, as the first results, naming the two candidates as Jovenel Moïse (PHTK) and Jude Célestin (LAPEH), have been widely rejected.
Time is short
The outcome of the current situation is uncertain. If security is back to normal, dialogue restored, elections completed and the newly-elected officials installed, then the interim government would have fulfilled its mission. However, there is growing doubt on the likelihood of organizing the election during the accorded 120 days, as more than one month out of four has already passed. If the interim government does not manage to hold the elections due to the lack of time, will there be a consensus to extend its mandate?
Meanwhile, major challenges already await the future officials, who will have to address several issues during their term in office.
First, the installation of a permanent electoral council. Since the fall of the Duvalier dictatorship, the 1987 Constitution made provisions for the creation of a permanent electoral management body. However, the ongoing democratic transition was never allowed to go beyond provisional electoral councils. And, in order to avoid misinterpretations of the Haitian constitution, which have become common these past months, there is also a need for a constitutional court.
With more than 25 per cent of Haitians living in extreme poverty, according to a recent UN report, politicians will also have to focus on providing basic public services such as healthcare, education, food security, and water and sanitation to avoid further dissatisfaction.
Addressing inflation and rising unemployment is another key task for current and future leadership in the country, as this mainly affect women and youth.
It now appears clearly that the resolution of this crisis is both conjunctural and structural. While most issues require long-term solutions, it has to be built on immediate political stability and the proper functioning of democratic institutions.
It is in that perspective that International IDEA continues to work closely with all stakeholders, to support the strengthening of public institutions such as Parliament and the CEP, but also women’s organizations and political parties. In particular, International IDEA, working with the new parliament, is initiating a Handbook on Legislative Agenda, and is preparing to support the process of finally installing a permanent CEP.