Haiti Elections News Roundup - September 22

After a slow start, Haiti’s elections are beginning to heat up. Preparations for the October 9 vote are on track, according to the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) and all of the major presidential candidates that participated in the annulled October 25 election are again in the race. Sixteen Senate seats are also up for grabs. The US and other powerful members of the international community in Haiti have softened their criticisms of the decision to rerun the presidential race, but concerns about violence disrupting the electoral process have been raised by a high-profile arms seizure in Saint-Marc.

The CEP’s electoral preparations are advancing well and materials are arriving on time from Dubai. The CEP announced that political parties had registered 130,806 polling station representatives (mandataires) for the October 9 vote. Advance registration of mandataires was introduced to prevent a repetition of the problems that arose during the October 25 elections, when the previous CEP distributed 915,675 mandataire accreditations with very few controls. Lax safeguards allowed the huge number of accreditations to be illegally bought and sold and used to cast multiple votes, the Verification Commission found. The CEP also published electoral lists so that voters can verify which polling station they are assigned to one month before the elections as promised. The Haitian National Police announced that every single officer will be mobilized on October 9 to provide security.

While expressing a guarded optimism about the progress made, the Catholic Church’s Justice and Peace Commission called on the CEP to make public its evaluation of the electoral machinery. Pitit Dessalines’ presidential candidate Moise Jean-Charles, meanwhile, decried the possible influence of businessman Andy Apaid Jr. within the Tabulation Center. Jean-Charles alleged that Apaid, a vocal critic of Lavalas and civic opposition leader during the second Aristide government (2000-2004), was hired as a consultant by the CEP. Executive Director Uder Antoine replied that the electoral council has not signed any contract with Apaid. CEP President Léopold Berlanger has previously served on the board of directors of an NGO, Fondation Nouvelle Haiti, with Apaid.

American diplomats have adopted a more conciliatory tone since cutting off funding in response to the rerunning of the presidential race. US Ambassador Peter Mulrean welcomed Haiti’s decision to finance the elections itself, stating that having another country pay for elections is an “anomaly.” The OAS announced that it will send 130 observers for the October 9 elections, led by former Uruguayan Senator Juan Raul Ferreira. “Even though we never expressly accepted that the right decision was to do a redo, the OAS is there,” said Gerardo de Icaza, director of the hemispheric body’s department of electoral cooperation and observation. “We’re happy that at least a political crisis is being solved through a democratic way.” De Icaza said that the CEP was implementing some of its recommendations for improving the electoral process. The OAS has also offered statistical training for quicker preliminary election results. The OAS’s own statistical expertise, however, has been questioned due to its misleading use of “quick count” vote tallies in the previous rounds. The OAS has deployed 15 electoral observation missions to Haiti since 1990.

The EU withdrew its observers after the CEP accepted the Verification Commission’s recommendation to annul the October 25 presidential vote, but France signed an agreement with the OAS to contribute to their observation efforts in 2016. A recent report by the National Lawyers Guild, International Association of Democratic Lawyers and the Haiti Support Group decried the “monumental failure” of international observers during the first two rounds in 2015 and called for the foreign monitors to report more honestly and objectively on October 9.

PHTK’s Jovenel Moise was one of the first presidential candidates to hit the campaign trail in anticipation of the October 9 vote, but was dogged by controversy early on. The Unité centrale de renseignements financiers (UCREF) released a partial report at the start of the campaign which suggested Moise was involved in money laundering, based on evidence of questionable financial dealings by his companies (Agritrans SA, Jomar Auto Parts and others). Then, Moise made a public appearance in Pestel (Grand’Anse) on August 27 with former paramilitary leader and Senate candidate Guy Philippe by his side. Philippe is wanted by US law enforcement on drug trafficking charges, and has repeatedly threatened the interim government with civil war. In addition, Philippe is suspected of involvement in a May 15 attack on the Les Cayes police commissariat. Human rights activist Pierre Esperance called the meeting “stunning,” “sad,” and “revolting.”

Moise dismissed the UCREF allegations as “purely political” and defended his appearance with Philippe. “I am campaigning and everyone understands what that means: we are here to charm everyone,” Moise said. “I didn't have a choice but to speak to him because I am currently seeking votes.” Former Prime Minister Evans Paul announced his support for the PHTK candidate, calling him the “authentic representative of the people.” Although Paul’s KID is close to PHTK, Paul explained that his party has not yet endorsed Moise’s candidacy.

Concerns about election-related violence were heightened by a cache of illegal arms seized by port authorities in Saint-Marc. On September 8, port inspectors found over 150 firearms and 30,000 rounds of ammunitions in an old school bus, which had been shipped to the Artibonite port from Miami and was registered under the name of Charles E. Durand. Minister of Security Himmler Rébu announced an investigation to determine who was the intended recipient and declared that smuggled arms represent a serious threat to the security and stability of the country. In January 2015, police officials estimated that there were 250,000 unregistered firearms in circulation in the country.

A number of political forces have aligned behind Jude Célestin’s presidential bid. The LAPEH candidate has the backing of one-half of the Group of Eight candidates: Eric Jean-Baptiste (MAS), Sauveur Pierre-Etienne (OPL), Mario Andresol (independent) and Steven Benoit (Konviksyon). At his campaign launch in Arcahaie on August 31, Célestin claimed he had been unfairly persecuted by the international community in the 2010 elections, calling on voters to redress this “injustice” on October 9. OPL’s Pierre-Etienne reminded the crowd that it was Célestin’s boycott of the January 24 elections that led to the Verification Commission and the rerun of the presidential race. On September 15, Célestin signed an accord with four parties (OPL, Vérité, Inite and ADEBHA) that officially sealed a political alliance. Vérité and Inite are closely linked to former President René Préval. Vérité’s candidate Jacky Lumarque was excluded from the presidential race by the previous CEP. Célestin also received the support of religious leaders of Haiti’s Vodou sector.

Fanmi Lavalas’ Maryse Narcisse kicked off her campaign on August 29 with a large march to Pétionville, accompanied by former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Unlike in the 2015 elections, Aristide has been actively campaigning for Fanmi Lavalas, joining a caravan to Cap-Haitïen with Narcisse. The FL caravan was greeted by cheering crowds in Cabaret and Saint-Marc. In Gonaives, however, anti-Lavalas protesters from the neighborhood of Raboteau reportedly forced FL to cancel a planned public appearance. In Cap-Haitien, Aristide fell ill shortly before he was supposed to speak and taken to the hospital where he was treated for dehydration. Aristide was back on the campaign trail the next day, telling the press that there was “a lot of dirty money” and numerous “professional liars” tainting Haiti's presidential campaign.

Like Célestin, Pitit Dessalines’ Moise Jean-Charles also chose the city of Arcahaie for the launch of his presidential campaign on August 28. Jean-Charles is running as a left-leaning “renovating socialist” and has the support of Dumarsais Simeus, a wealthy Haitian-American businessman who attempted to run for president in 2006. His campaign may be hindered by the loss of campaign manager Daly Valet, who left to serve in the interim government. The former Senator and mayor of Milot is widely seen to be competing with Narcisse for the votes of the Lavalas base. When the Fanmi Lavalas caravan arrived in Cap-Haitien, some Pitit Dessalines supporters angered by the choice of Narcisse over Moise Jean-Charles demonstrated. “Where was Maryse Narcisse after the political events of February 2004, while Jean Charles was leading the resistance?” asked one of the protesters.

After the incidents in Gonaives and Cap Haitien provoked by Narcisse’s and Aristide’s tour, the CEP and Prime Minister Enex Jean-Charles both warned political parties that disruptions and violence would not be tolerated during the campaign.

See No Evil, Hear No Evil? New Report Sheds Light on Controversial Role of International Observers

The National Lawyers Guild, the International Association of Democratic Lawyers and the Haiti Support Group released a report, entitled Democracy Discouraged: International Observers and Haiti’s 2015 Elections, today on the controversial role played by the OAS and EU observation missions during the 2015 elections. The EU pulled its observers from Haiti in June 2016 in protest over the decision to rerun the presidential elections, but the OAS will be observing the October 9 elections. Below is the Executive Summary of the report; the full document (pdf) is available here.

The 2015 elections in Haiti represent a monumental failure of international electoral observation. With the Presidency, two-thirds of the Senate and the entire Chamber of Deputies at stake, the elections were crucial for Haiti’s political future. Instead of assessing the vote according to international standards for democratic elections, the Organization of American States (OAS) and European Union (EU) electoral observation missions consistently downplayed, minimized and obfuscated the serious flaws and violations of voters’ rights that occurred. Despite clear evidence of fraud, violence and irregularities, OAS and EU observers opposed calls for an independent verification and defended the integrity of the election results. The international observers’ positions closely mirrored those of the United States and other large donor nations, raising doubts about the neutrality and independence of such missions. Overall, the presence of OAS and EU observers aggravated Haiti’s electoral crisis and made a democratic outcome less, rather than more, likely.

On August 9, 2015, legislative elections were marred by widespread incidents of fraud, violence and voter intimidation. As a result, the vote was annulled at 13 percent of voting centers, and nearly a quarter of all tally sheets were destroyed, lost or excluded from the final results. Election-day unrest and poor organization led to low turnout (18 percent) and the disenfranchisement of many voters. Except in rare cases, police officers stationed at voting centers did not intervene to halt acts of violence and other disruptions, raising questions about whether officers had received an order from above directing them to stand down.

On October 25, 2015, most voters stayed away from the polls, out of apathy or fear inspired by the violent and chaotic August 9 vote. Voting centers were instead crowded with political party observers (mandataires), who cast multiple fraudulent votes using blank accreditations that allowed them to vote without being on the electoral list. These passes were illegally bought and sold prior to the elections after the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) distributed nearly 1 million of them to political parties and observer groups. Mandataire votes and votes cast without proper documentation accounted for 40 percent of total votes and had a decisive influence on the presidential, legislative and municipal elections.

In contrast to Haitian observers who strongly denounced the August 9 and October 25 elections, the OAS and EU observer missions described the elections as a successful exercise of democracy. According to both missions, the August 9 elections were marked only by isolated incidents of violence and the October 25 elections experienced minor irregularities, neither of which significantly impacted the electoral results. The heads of the international missions told journalists that election day had unfolded in “near-total normalcy” on August 9 and that October 25 represented “a breath of hope for Haitian democracy.”

This praise amounted to willful blindness on the part of the OAS and EU missions, as they neglected the well-documented accounts of fraud, violence and irregularities produced by Haitian observers and corroborated by reports from local and international journalists. Even more disconcerting, both missions ignored evidence of election-day violence and irregularities from their own observers. One quarter of OAS observers were forced to withdraw due to violence at polling places on August 9, while unrest at certain polling stations was so severe that EU observers could not leave their vehicles. The EU and OAS observer missions were aware of the risks that the CEP’s massive distribution of blank accreditations entailed before October 25, but nevertheless ignored the black market trade in accreditations and denied the scale of the mandataire multiple voting.

The EU and OAS observers’ endorsement of the October 25 election results undermined Haitians’ efforts to address the irregularities. Massive protests calling for a verification of the vote erupted after October 25, backed by Haitian observers, civil society groups, popular organizations and opposition parties. The electoral crisis culminated in the indefinite suspension of elections on January 22, 2016 and the formation of an interim government. Two official commissions, the Independent Electoral Evaluation Commission (CEEI) and the Independent Commission for the Evaluation and Verification of Elections (CIEVE), were appointed to investigate claims of fraud, with the latter concluding that the presidential race should be rerun.

Every step of the way, OAS and EU observers called for elections to continue despite the tainted results and opposed verification of irregularities. In the face of mounting evidence that a mass of fraudulent votes cast with illegally-purchased accreditations distorted election results, the OAS eventually recognized that “irregularities” (though not fraud) involving mandataires had become “a source of concern” (November 6) and had “generated problems” (January 7). The EU mission remained intransigent, alternately misrepresenting the conclusions or attacking the credibility of the CEEI and CIEVE. Both missions consistently defended the integrity of the official results, even after two official commissions uncovered ample evidence of fraud and massive irregularities.

The backing of the international observers lent legitimacy to the elections and hindered efforts to initiate a verification process. Opponents of an independent verification commission included former President Michel Martelly and his allies, as well as the U.S. and other leading foreign powers in Haiti. When pressing the interim authorities to move forward with the second round of presidential elections, U.S. government officials referred to the international stamp of approval given by the OAS and EU missions as the explanation for why it considered verification unnecessary. The OAS and EU reports were used to attack the credibility of Haitian observers, political parties and others demanding an investigation. In addition, the international media cited the EU and OAS observers as credible sources far more frequently than Haitian observers, shaping perceptions of the elections abroad.

The principal function of international observation missions is to ensure that the monitored elections comply with international standards for free and fair elections. Yet despite the widespread and documented violations of voters’ rights, the EU and OAS endorsed both elections as meeting international standards. The flawed assessments suggest that international observer missions are subject to influence by the powerful memberstates that sponsor them. OAS and EU observers’ positions on the 2015 elections closely mirrored those of the U.S., Canada, France and Spain – especially where they deviated from the consensus of local observers and the press – an indication that protecting these states’ political and economic agendas in Haiti may have taken precedence over upholding international standards.

The following are recommendations to international electoral observation missions made by Haitian electoral observers, which should be implemented in Haiti’s upcoming elections (scheduled for October 9, 2016) and in future elections:

1. Respect Haiti’s sovereignty and refrain from all interference in the electoral process, including by economic means such as funding.

2. Improve electoral observation missions’ independence and professionalism, not only in observations, but also in public communication about the observation results.

3. Meet with Haitian civil society electoral observation missions before and after the elections to learn their perspective.

4. Improve the consideration of analyses, opinions and proposals of Haitian civil society expressed in consultations.

5. Support a constructive dialogue between political parties and Haitian civil society organizations for solutions to political matters.

6. Facilitate education campaigns and involvement of civil society organizations to make elections a civic activity.

7. Encourage participation of women candidates to meet the constitutional guarantee of 30 percent female representation in all aspects of political life.

8. Support investigation and sanctions provided by the electoral decree and the Haitian Constitution for candidates, partisans, political parties and electoral staff implicated in fraudulent operations.

Haiti Elections News Roundup - August 21

Interim President Jocelerme Privert has bypassed the political gridlock in Haiti’s parliament and set elections officially for Oct 9. Despite its withdrawal of electoral funding on July 7, the U.S. expressed its confidence in Haiti’s ability to organise fair elections. Kenneth Merten, the Department of State’s Special Coordinator for Haiti, stated in clear terms: “I am confident that Haitians can organize good elections. If the elections are good, the U.S. will not have any problems with the Haitian government.”
President Privert assured the public that the elections will be funded nationally, affirming that the $55 million needed for the elections are available in the public treasury. “It is a matter of national sovereignty,” he stated. In contrast, former Prime Minister Evans Paul said that finding the money to hold the elections will be “an unsurmountable challenge” for Privert. In response, members of the Haitian Diaspora offered to contribute to help finance the elections. The IC (L’initative Citoyenne; The Citizens’ Initiative) welcomed the government’s decision to fund the elections nationally and strongly opposed the printing of the ballot papers abroad.

The OAS welcomed the announcement of the elections declaring that it will observe the October 9 vote. The OAS electoral mission finally released a report on the CIEVE (Independent Electoral Evaluation and Verification Commission) report.  In stark contrast to EU and the US, the OAS respected Haiti’s decision to rerun the elections, while recommending improvements to the electoral process to remove obstacles to voting. For example, the OAS urged the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) to distribute electoral lists in a timely manner and to train staff ahead of the elections. The OAS also suggested sanctioning candidates implicated in incidents of violence and intimidation, introducing electronic registration of party representatives, and adopting fingerprint technology. The EU observation mission announced its withdrawal from Haiti, in protest over the decision to discard the results of October 25 presidential election and start again.

G30, a group uniting thirty minority candidates, has renamed itself as RCG30 (The Grouping of G30 and its allies) and decided to put forward Jacques Sampeur, of KLE (Konbit Liberasyon Ekonomik; The Economic Liberation Collective) as its candidate for the upcoming presidential elections.

OPL (l’Organisation du Peuple en Lutte) announced a possible alliance with LAPEH (Ligue alternative pour le Progrès et l’Émancipation d’Haïti; The Alternative League for the Progress and Emancipation of Haiti).

Moïse Jean-Charles from Pitit Dessalines recently travelled to the U.S., stating that he was planning the next steps in his presidential campaign.