Delayed elections in Haiti present opportunity for real change

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The runoff presidential elections in Haiti, originally scheduled for Dec. 27 and then pushed to Jan. 24, have now been postponed indefinitely. A group of eight presidential candidates, supported by many other politicians and civil society groups, refused to participate in the elections due to irregularities in the first round that took place in October. As violent protests mount, Haiti’s electoral council, or CEP, determined it would be too dangerous to hold elections and canceled them without announcing a new date.

{mosads}This is likely for the best, as Haiti can now take the time to prepare more adequately for the elections and take steps to restore the Haitian people’s faith in the process. The United States, the U.N. and the Organization of American States (OAS) have continued to push for elections to take place as soon as possible, operating under the mantra of “bad elections are better than no elections,” but this is not wise; it is far better to have a transitional government for a short period of time than to be stuck with an illegitimate government for five years that does not reflect the will of the Haitian people.

In order to move Haiti toward political stability and democracy, the Haitian people must have faith in the electoral process. An official audit of 78 tally sheets from the first round of elections found irregularities in all 78, but the CEP refused to conduct further investigation or a recount. Both must happen before the runoff elections will truly reflect the will of the Haitian people. Progress toward genuine democracy cannot be made without a full and transparent recount. Jovenel Moise, President Michel Martelly’s handpicked successor, was reported by the Haitian election commission, or CEP, to be in first place with 33 percent of the vote, but an exit poll found that only 6 percent of responders voted for him. There are many other examples of government-backed fraud in this election that cause many to fear Haiti is backsliding into dictatorship not seen since the rule of the Duvalier family, which ended in 1986.

Put simply, Haitians currently do not trust their government to carry out free and fair elections and accurately report the results. An independent research group based in Brazil conducted two polls to measure public confidence surrounding the first round of elections in October 2015. In response to the first poll, put out the day of the election, 82 percent of Haitians agreed with the statement, “As far as I can see, this election is fair, there is no fraud.” But after the preliminary results were announced on Nov. 5, almost 90 percent of those approached for the second poll believed there was indeed fraud committed.

The New York Times’ editorial board commented that the decision to postpone elections “made sense” due to growing violence, but the suspension of elections could prove a tremendous opportunity if certain actions are taken. Presidential candidate Jude Célestin, leader of the candidates who boycotted the now-canceled elections, correctly argues that Haiti’s democracy faces a crisis of legitimacy. Genuine democracy in Haiti can only be achieved through tackling this crisis of legitimacy, and that means restoring the people’s faith in the electoral process.

Stability, democracy and prosperity in Haiti will not improve unless Haitians have faith in their government and the democratic process — and currently, there are plenty of reasons for them to feel cheated by their government and the international community. We now have an opportunity to right some of the past wrongs by conducting a full investigation into fraud committed during the first round of elections, performing a full transparent recount of the votes, building an adequate electoral infrastructure as suggested by the presidential commission and restoring Haitian voters’ faith in the democratic process.

Jonassaint was appointed special envoy of the president of Haiti in 1994, assisted in the pre-negotiations of the Port-au-Prince Accord and is a popular adviser to political leaders and impact investors around the world. Follow him on Twitter @mjjonassaint.

Tags Elections Haiti Jovenel Moise Michel Martelly postponed

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