Voices of Haiti: In Pursuit of the Undemocratic

Down with Selection, Long Live Election: A sign at a Dec. 5 protest in Port-au-Prince. Photo by Bri Kouri Nowel GayeDown with Selection, Long Live Election: A sign at a Dec. 5 protest in Port-au-Prince. Photo by Bri Kouri Nowel Gaye“Have you chosen me a good government, Blan?”-sarcastic question posed by a Haitian voter to a foreign election monitor at a polling station in Port-Au-Prince.

While $26 million was spent on Haiti’s November 28 elections, a great deal more is at stake for international business. Over $9 billion in reconstruction contracts will be up for grabs, and the government selected could possibly have influence on the foreign dominated Haiti Interim Reconstruction Committee (HIRC), which is tasked with determining the path of Haiti’s development.

Even more important than the money, the election at one time held the possibility of resulting in a government that respects the needs and desires of the Haitian population, the majority that has largely been excluded from participation in the planning and implementation of the development of their country. The plan described by various civil society groups and vibrant peasant networks is a far cry from elite and international business interests, and is often intentionally disrupted.

This election is a perfect example, and as such, the failure of the elections should not come as a surprise. The results are consistent with the history of the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP), which throughout the electoral process has enjoyed the support of the United Nations and foreign governments. Haiti has been on the course of undemocratic elections since the CEP, itself illegitimately formed and not in line with Haitian law, excluded 15 political parties from the elections, effectively silencing the majority in the realm of public opinion.

In the weeks leading up to the election, civil society organized public demonstrations in opposition to the election. Citizens took to the streets, often facing violence from police and the UN’s soldiers. Despite a deadly cholera epidemic, over 1.5 million people displaced from the January 12 earthquake living in unacceptable conditions, failed voter registration, poor logistical support, and Haitian and international civil society groups calling for a postponement of the elections, the powers that pull the strings determined that it must proceed.

As Alexander Main from the Center for Economic and Policy Research explained: “It wasn’t the population that chose the moment or that demanded that elections be held now. In fact, in the tent communities we visited prior to the elections many individuals expressed outrage at the fact elections were being held in the midst of an extreme crisis that is far from resolved.”
The official election monitoring teams from the Organization of American States (OAS) and CARICOM were quick to give the rubber stamp of approval to the massively flawed November 28 elections to be satisfactory. However in the eyes of independent observers and Haitians interviewed during the week following the election, the official monitors are either terribly mistaken or outright lying.

One important connection between the OAS/CARICOM monitors’ report and the CEP, is that the 56 voting stations they highlighted were the 4% that were reported to be completely destroyed on the day of elections. However, beyond these disastrous cases, the irregularities that OAS/CARICOM did not see as “problems” were very much present and serious enough to prevent much of the Haitian population from participating in the elections. This ensured that most Haitians remain marginalized and systematically removed from participation in the development of their own country.

As a member of one of the six multi-organizational teams of independent monitors organized by TransAfrica Forum and the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, I witnessed first hand the irregularities, often severe, at nearly every polling station visited. Not a single one of places I visited was one of the 56 “problem” stations mentioned by the official observers.

When the United Nations failed to uphold its logistical responsibilities and deliver the ballots, voting stations opened late or not at all. In one of the most desolate displacement camps for earthquake survivors, Camp Kanaran, political party observers paced an empty field where a polling station was supposed to be set up but never materialized. Other voting stations were reported to have closed before noon.

At nearly every station visited by our teams, voters were unable to vote because their names were missing from the registration list. Team members from the Louisiana Justice Institute reported that many searched multiple locations unsuccessfully, seeking their name on any voter list but instead finding many of their deceased neighbors and family members listed.

Throughout election day, discouraged people shared similar stories of how they were unable to vote despite following the official process to register. As the day progressed, the frustrations felt by people wishing to cast their ballots grew. Yet this problem was not mentioned or validated by the official monitors. The CEP marginalized many voters twice; first, the CEP prevented the most popular political party from participating in the election, and second, flaws in voter lists disenfranchised thousands of would be voters.

Tensions rose and voting centers were subsequently closed due to violent clashes between UN soldiers and disgruntled Haitian voters. There were numerous reports of police and UN suppression of crowds that had gathered to express their irritation with the inability to cast their vote.

By early afternoon, the majority of the candidates called for an annulment of the elections, including most of the projected frontrunners (two of which subsequently retracted their statement). Protests developed in numerous cities during the afternoon and continued to manifest during the following week.

Public demonstrations remain the lone forum for the mass population to have their voices heard. Other forms of recourse have been systematically removed in the same manner that Haitians have lost their right to elect democratic representatives during this election. Unfortunately, demonstrations often result in physical suppression at the hands of the United Nations soldiers and the National Police that they have trained.

In light of statements from the head of the UN mission in Haiti, Edmund Mulet in which he threatened to remove international life lines to the country if Haitians do not remain subordinate to the political will of the UN mission and international powers it represents, the Haitian authorities are certain to fall in line. As long as the UN holds the strings of the Haitian government, democracy remains a distant and unreachable dream.

Mark Snyder is a Human Rights Advocate with International Action Ties.