By Sir Ronald Sanders
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Monday June 6, 2016 – There is a certain illogic in the reaction of both the UN Secretary-General and the US State Department over the findings of a Haitian Verification Commission that evaluated the 25 October 2015 first round general elections. The Verification Commission (Cieve) presented a report on May 30 calling for the first round elections to be scrapped and the elections redone because of what it concluded were widespread fraud and irregularities.
The UN Secretary-General expressed concern that “this situation has the potential to adversely affect international support to Haiti” and “reiterates the need for a democratically elected leadership to take on the growing socio-economic and humanitarian challenges the country faces”.
What this seems to suggest is that the UN Secretary-General wishes Haiti to ignore the findings of Cieve and to proceed with a second round of elections even though the first round is regarded as seriously flawed. It is an odd position for the UN Secretary-General to adopt, particularly as, in its world-wide position on elections, the UN insists on transparency and fairness in general elections as a basis for democracy.
On April 15, in a commentary entitled “No Quick Fix in Haiti”, I made the point that: “My concern for any President elected after a second round without verification of the first is that he will not command the respect and authority that validation will bestow. Any President in Haiti who is not widely regarded as legitimately elected with a mandate to govern, will not be able to hold the country together and to give it the leadership it needs for very tough choices that lie ahead. In such circumstances, the persistent poverty and underdevelopment that has plagued Haiti will deepen and the potential for political conflict and civil strife will intensify”. I continue to hold to that position.
I made that observation after having led a Special Mission of the Organisation of American States (OAS) to Haiti at the end of January/early February to help resolve a constitutional and political impasse that, without settlement, would have undoubtedly plunged the country into worse circumstances than existed at the time. During that mission, I met over 30 organisations and individuals who are deeply involved in Haiti’s political and economic affairs. Apart from Parti Haïtien Têt Kalé (PHTK), the party of former president Michel Martelly, all parties expressed deep misgivings about the first-round October 25, 2015 elections. It was clear to me then that unless verification of the first-round elections confirmed its acceptability, a second and final round would be regarded as a sham.
Normally, the UN would also be anxious to make sure that the validity of elections in any country is verified before proceeding any further. It is puzzling, therefore, that there is a different stance in relation to these elections in Haiti.
Equally confusing is the position of the US State Department whose spokesman John Kirby said that while the US recognises that this is a Haitian-led process, “the longer it takes for Haiti to have a democratically elected president, the longer it’s going to take for the United States to consider new elements of partnership in helping Haiti confront the mounting economic, climate and health challenges that they continue to face”.
No one could disagree with the importance of having a democratically elected President in place. A “democratically elected President” is key to “taking on the growing socio-economic and humanitarian challenges the country faces” as the UN Secretary-General puts it. But, that is the crux of the matter. Cieve’s conclusion that the first-round elections were characterised by widespread fraud and irregularities, means that the election of a President on that basis will not be democratic. Further, it will be seen not to be democratic by a significant section of the Haitian community, particularly all but one of the many political parties capable of mobilising demonstrations, civil strife or worse.
Significantly, among the groups that did not dismiss the verification commission’s finding is Haiti’s private sector lobby, Forum Economique du Secteur Privé (Fesp) which hailed Cieve’s “courage”.
I hold no banner for any of the political personalities and parties, many of whom my team and I met and held extensive discussions. Among them was Jovenel Moïse of Parti Haïtien Têt Kalé (PHTK) who was declared the front runner after the first-round elections. The significant exception to those we met is one of the main Presidential contenders, Jude Célestin of the Ligue Alternative Pour le Progrés et l’Emancipation Haïtienne (Lapeh) party. Mr Celestin chose not to see the OAS team, on the basis of a continuing a myth that the OAS had helped fix the elections that produced Martelly as President in 2011. But, it is clear that only a President elected by a process – widely accepted by the Haitian stakeholders – can command the support necessary to lead Haiti through the many difficult conditions confronting it.
Of course, no election will ever be accepted by every person who loses. But, in this case, it is a verification committee that has rejected the validity of the first round. Its findings should not simply be dismissed so that a President can be elected, allowing external parties to move on. For, in truth, they will not move on if chaos is the consequence of a final election based on a flawed first round. It is far better that properly conducted and supervised new elections be held soon. To do so, the election process in Haiti must be strengthened. The UN, the OAS and key governments in the Americas, including those of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) should provide the Haitians with the tools they need to do a proper and effective job.
The provisional electoral council has said that a new electoral calendar will be published on June 6. The UN, the OAS, CARICOM and others should hold the administration of the interim President, Jocelerme Privert, and the electoral council to that date, and to organising the new elections as early as practicable. They should also provide the technical and other assistance that are required. The inter-American Community cannot move out and move on.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Sir Ronald Sanders, Antigua and Barbuda’s Ambassador to the US and OAS, and Senior Fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, London University and Massey College, Toronto University.