Haiti's presidential and second-round parliamentary elections are slated to take place on Oct. 25, and the country is far from ready. The first-round elections on Aug. 9 were characterized by massive irregularities and poor preparation, resulting in 18 percent of registered voters participating and nearly 25 percent of votes unaccounted for. One election observer group described the first round of elections as "an affront to democratic principles." If the second round proceeds without addressing these problems, then the results will be meaningless, and the next Haitian government will have no legitimacy with which to build a stable democracy.
The irregularities of Haiti's Aug. 9 elections are well-documented. Official poll-watcher badges were only distributed to select political parties, and observer badges were given to fake observers who "facilitated the movement of armed gangs between polling centers." Ballot-stuffing was so rampant that Haiti's Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) ruled it would accept votes from constituencies "where at least 70% of the tally sheets were considered valid;" an alarmingly low threshold for legitimacy.
The CEP has been targeted as the source for many of Haiti's electoral problems. The institution often fails to investigate irregularities, refuses to disqualify candidates or punish political parties complicit in electoral violence, and has been accused of bias toward parties connected to Haitian President Michel Martelly.
U.S. Rep. Maxine WatersMaxine Moore WatersRemedying injustice for the wrongfully convicted does not end when they are released McCarthy says he'll strip Dems of committee slots if GOP wins House A presidential candidate pledge can right the wrongs of an infamous day MORE (D-Calif.) recently wrote a letter to Secretary of State John KerryJohn KerryA presidential candidate pledge can right the wrongs of an infamous day Equilibrium/Sustainability — Dam failures cap a year of disasters Four environmental fights to watch in 2022 MORE criticizing the CEP for failing to take strong action in the face of irregularities, calling on the United States to withhold funding for elections that do not meet "basic democratic requirements."
Kerry's statements on the upcoming elections reveal cognitive dissonance between U.S. values and actions. In a joint press availability with Martelly on Oct. 6, Kerry called for free and fair elections: "Haiti needs governing institutions that are legitimate and representative, and those cannot come into being without free and fair elections in which citizens take part without intimidation, without violence."
But in the same breath, Kerry followed his call for free and fair elections with a clear endorsement of the Oct. 25 date: "Haiti's coat of arms says 'L'union fait la force,' and that unity has an enormous opportunity to be present and visible and felt in the 19 days from now that the president mentioned."
If the United States wishes to support free and fair elections, as Kerry stated, then it must heed Waters's call and pressure the Haitian government as well as the U.N. mission in Haiti to push back the elections, allow time to fix irregularities and improve the operational capacity of the CEP. The current Haitian government is a transitional government put in place for the sole purpose of overseeing a successful election; extending its mandate for a few months is not only doable, but would help fulfill the objective for which the transitional government was appointed. It is better for Haiti to endure a few more months of transitional governance than to be stuck with an illegitimate government for another five years.
It would not be unprecedented to push back Haiti's presidential and second-round parliamentary elections. In 2006, general elections were pushed back from November 2005 until February 2006. The presidential inauguration, slated for February 2016, is often cited as an obstacle, yet both the current president and his predecessor were inaugurated in May — past the traditional February date.
The international community heaped praise on Haiti's first round of elections for the sole reason that they "happened." U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called the Aug. 9 elections "a major milestone for democracy." This could not be further from the truth.
The international community — including members of the Haitian diaspora, like me — is eager to see elections take place in Haiti, and generous donors have contributed millions to the process. But we cannot allow this to cloud our judgement. Haiti needs a government that has the mandate of its people, and this will not result from elections that take place on Oct. 25.
Haiti has many more elections slated for the coming years, from multiple Senate elections in 2016, 2019 and 2021, to the next presidential election in 2020. If we invest the time and resources to set up permanent electoral infrastructure, each of these elections can be free, fair and cheap. But if we are shortsighted, we will waste money and opportunities to build trust between the Haitian government and its people, using temporary fixes instead of creating permanent solution.
We must do the right thing for the Haitian people: take responsibility for flaws in the electoral process and allow time for building the proper infrastructure before holding elections. Without truly free and fair elections, the state of Haiti will have no foundation upon which to build its economy and create stability.
Jonassaint was appointed special envoy of the president of Haiti in 1994 and assisted in the pre-negotiations of the Port-au-Prince Accord.