The turbulent events of this past week culminated in a last-minute decision by the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) on Friday night to cancel the elections scheduled for Sunday, January 24. “The moment is not right,” according to Pierre Louis Opont, the President of the CEP. The electoral council pointed to intensifying protests that often turned violent and arson attacks on election offices, but its decision to delay elections also came after weeks of increasing pressure from international organisations, Diaspora groups, Haitian civil organisations, political opposition and religious groups. For second-place presidential candidate Jude Célestin, the sudden turn of events represented a “victory for all of the democratic sector.” An overall solution to Haiti’s festering, months-long electoral crisis still remains to be found.
A series of events in the past week contributed to the CEP’s announcement. On Sunday, January 17, Jude Celéstin along with the Group of Eight (G-8) announced that they would not participate in the vote on January 24. Célestin was clear that the scheduled election would only result in a rise of tensions and a further deepening of the political impasse. As a result, Jovenel Moise was left as the only candidate in the presidential run-off, sarcastically dubbed by some as ‘Jovenel vs. Jovenel.’ On Wednesday, January 20, Haiti’s Senate called on the CEP and the Government to stop preparations for the Sunday elections.
Over the course of the week, numerous demonstrations occurred throughout the country. In nation’s capital, burning tire barricades were mounted on Champ de Mars and many other streets. There were violent clashes between the police and the demonstrators in front of the Faculty of Ethnology. Thousands took to the streets opposing the Sunday vote in Petit-Goave, in Gonaives and in Léogane, where the biggest voting centre was set on fire.
Many civil society and religious organizations voiced their opposition to a one-man presidential runoff. The Catholic Church has echoed the widespread criticism of the electoral process proclaiming univocally that “the necessary requirements for the holding of good elections have not been met.” In Seconding earlier criticism of the opposition, the Church has also recognized that the recommendations of the Independent Electoral Commission have not been put in place. The Bishops called on the government and the CEP to seek dialogue and work towards establishing “a durable and acceptable solution in the favour of the Haitian people.” JILAP (the Episcopal Commission for Justice and Peace) has equally judged the current Government as “incapable of organising good elections.” They joined many other Haitian electoral observation organisations, including RNNDH, SOFA and CONHANE, in condemning “the programmed consultation” scheduled for January, 24. Even Haiti’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry publicly opposed the run-off without significant improvements being made first.
The Haitian Diaspora issued a strong condemnation of the planned Sunday vote. More than 140 organisations and individuals wrote to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry criticising “the unhelpful role the Department of State is playing in Haiti’s electoral crisis.” In their view, continuation of U.S. support will “only aggravate the political crisis.” In a Thursday Op-Ed, The Miami Herald editors called for a postponement of the Sunday elections. Given Martelly’s unyielding stance, “Haiti’s foreign partners should use their influence to help create a smooth transition and establish conditions for a fair and transparent election.” Echoing these calls, Congresswoman Maxine Waters urged John Kerry not to support the deeply flawed elections. Rather than further undermining its reputation in the region by pushing for the elections, the U.S. should support “Senators, non-violent protesters, churches, human rights groups, political parties and others [who] are playing by the rules of a democracy, trying to obtain fair elections that produce a legitimate government that gives Haiti a chance at the stability it desperately needs for economic development.”
Disregarding the serious consequences this might have for the legitimacy of the next president, President Martelly, the Prime Minister and the CEP continued to insist that the elections would take place, with or without Célestin. The U.S. and other foreign powers supported this stance. On Tuesday, January 19 the U.S. argued that “numerous concessions” had been made to Célestin and that the country could not wait any longer to go forward with the second-round. As The New York Times noted, by pressing on with the elections, the U.S. was ignoring “[the] growing chorus of warnings” and contributing to a potential “explosion of violence” if the aftermath of the contested vote. For Ricardo Seitenfus, a former representative of OAS, the design of the situation was clear: “the Haitian electoral calendar is subject to the U.S. schedule.”
In response to CEP’s insistence on holding the elections on Sunday, on Thursday, January 21 twenty-four women’s organizations called on Yolette Mengual to definitely resign from the electoral council. This came after CEP members Ricardo Augustin, Vijonet Demero, and Jaccéus Joseph had resigned under heavy pressure. The resignation of Pierre Manigat on Friday January 22, which deprived the CEP of the quorum necessary to officially publish election results, may have been the last straw for the electoral council.
The Core Group waited until the very end to soften its line on holding elections on January 24 in spite of popular opposition. Shortly before the CEP’s announcement, the Core Group underlined their support for continuing the electoral process, but withheld any mention of the Sunday date. It became increasingly clear that “even the foreign powers are aware of the gravity of the situation” and of the dangerous consequences that their blind support for an illegitimate run-off could have.
Although the Government seemed more preoccupied by launching the 2016 Carnival (and the former Prime Minister by a basketball match in Louisiana), even they had the heed to the clarion call of the Haitian population: ‘Nou pral chanje leta , leta zonbi'. ‘We will change the state, the zombie state.’ After the postponement, the opposition continued to demonstrate over the weekend, while PHTK supporters held rallies of their own in Cap-Haitien and Port-au-Prince. The ‘Core Group’ reiterated its support for the electoral process and denounced acts of violence and intimidation.
With the cancellation of the elections, a transitional government now appears inevitable. Business leaders, government representatives and opposition senators have already begun negotiations over what will happen when Martelly’s term in office expires on February 7. Senate candidate and former 2004 coup leader Guy Philippe declared that he and his paramilitary supporters were “ready for war” and would not accept any transition government. Philippe is wanted by the DEA for involvement in drug trafficking, and was seen on the campaign trail with Jovenel Moise prior to the October 25 election.
- How long will such a government remain in power?
- How will its members be selected and with what mandate?
- Will the transitional government order an investigation of fraud and irregularities during the August 9 and October 25 elections, as demanded by opposition parties?
- Will a new CEP be appointed to replace the current scandal-plagued council?