Wyclef’s bully pulpit could be put to better use

On November 28, Haiti faces one of the most important elections since its first democratic election in 1990. Wyclef Jean’s run for President of Haiti was entertaining and brought a few weeks of limelight to the crucial elections. Before the media attention dies, a few minutes should be spent talking about the real issues involved – that the elections, which will provide the political foundation and accountability for the use of earthquake recovery funds, will likely be a sham. And unfortunately, the international community is paying for these illegitimate elections that could plunge the country into even greater chaos.
It was easy to get wrapped up in the celebrity hype around Wyclef’s candidacy. He even released a song called Prison for the CEP, protesting the decision of Haiti’s Provisional Electoral Council (the CEP) to exclude him from the candidate list.
Meanwhile, back in Haiti, at least 14 legitimate political parties have been excluded from the Parliamentary elections for dubious reasons. One of these parties, Famni Lavalas, is Haiti’s most popular political party. It has won every election it has been allowed to contest, and if allowed to participate in the coming election it would likely beat the party of the current Haitian President René Préval, Inite.
The reasons for excluding the other 13 parties are unclear, as the CEP, which was hand-picked by President Préval, lacks any transparency and shrugs its obligations to explain its decisions. Famni Lavalas was supposedly excluded because in April 2009, the party’s list of candidates did not contain an original signature from party leader former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. The CEP arbitrarily created this requirement at the last minute, knowing that President Aristide was in exile in South Africa and would be unable to deliver a signature. What does this have to do with November 28, 2010, you ask? The CEP is carrying over its decision to exclude from April 2009; Famni Lavalas need not apply to run in November.
The CEP also fabricated a new eligibility requirement to disqualify Famni Lavalas from the Presidential elections. The CEP now requires that the head of each party register presidential candidates in person. President Aristide has been kept out of Haiti since 2004 and has therefore been unable to personally deliver the candidate list. The exclusion of eligible political parties that rival Préval’s government is intentional and makes it impossible to have fair or credible elections.
The international community has shown an incredible commitment to rebuilding Haiti, yet appears to be turning a blind eye to the vital role a free and fair democracy must play in the effort. Donors have pledged $11 billion to invest in Haiti’s reconstruction; former President Bill Clinton heads the Haiti Interim Recovery Commission approving all major development projects; 1 out of 2 Americans gave money to a charity organization to help Haitians after the earthquake. But the effectiveness of these investments is threatened by sham elections.
Of all times in its history, Haiti needs a strong, legitimate government as a foundation for reconstruction and development plans. The continued exclusion of electoral candidates will greatly undermine the legitimacy of the November elections and could lead to political and social unrest. In the April 2009 elections where Famni Lavalas was excluded, Haitians boycotted the elections and 1/3 of the senate took office with as few as 3% of the vote. Haitians are already planning another boycott of these elections. The new President and Parliament could take office without the political support of its people, further weakening the government.
If the Haitian people feel cheated by the election they will quite rightly blame the international community that is providing funding for, and assisting with, the electoral process. The millions of ordinary Americans who gave so generously to help the Haitian people should also feel cheated if their money ends up enabling a corrupt political system.
In his new song, Prison for the CEP, Wyclef sings: “We had a good talk. Afterward Préval barred me. Even though you say that the decision came from the Provisional Electoral Council, I know you hold all the cards. I voted for you for President in 2006, why did you reject my candidacy today?”
Instead of dwelling on his own political fate, perhaps Wyclef can use his political mic to mention the exclusion of other, actually eligible, candidates from the elections less than 60 days away.
Nicole Phillips, Esq. is a Staff Attorney with the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti.