Delivering on the Elections: Haiti Grassroots Watch


Delivering on the Elections: Haiti Grassroots Watch – Not “free,” not “fair,” not “democracy,” not “reconstruction”

All over the internet, and on the television and radio in Haiti, journalists and pundits are focusing on “elections in the time of cholera.”

They’re discussing the protests against the UN troops, the exclusion of Fanmi Lavalas and the boycott of other parties… the opinion polls, the questionable constitutionality of the Provisional Electoral Council, and the tens of thousands of earthquake refugees who likely can’t vote because they don’t have voter cards.

All of these challenges are certainly important, since they call into question the legitimacy and the very legality of the parliamentary and presidential races slated for November 28.

But Haiti Grassroots Watch decided to take a step back to look at these questions:

•    Why elections?

•    What have 23 years of elections delivered so far?

•    At what cost – economic and political?

•    What alternative and what are the challenges?

See the full articles and video at the following link:

Elections 2010

Why elections and are they necessary for the “reconstruction”

Haitians have participated in one form of elections or other almost since independence. But only since the end of the Duvalier dictatorship in 1986 has the country had what are generally referred to as “free” elections – over a dozen races for presidents, parliamentarians, mayors and communal representatives.

According to the Preamble of the 1987 Haitian constitution, Haiti is a “democracy, which entails ideological pluralism and political rotation” and among the duties of the Haitian citizen are “to vote in elections without restraint” [Article 52-1]. Elections are the manner in which citizens are to participate in their country’s political life.

But in Haiti, as in other countries, there seems to be a confusion or conflation of “elections,” “democracy,” “development” and economic and/or social well-being.

Leanne Dorvin, a vegetable seller who travels between Vallue and Grand Goave, told Haiti Grassroots Watch that “elections are good” because “we need someone to help the people who are still in the streets, who have so many needs.”

But when asked what she thought of the current elected government, she launched into a tirade about the lack of roads, schools or health facility in her region: “The state has forgotten us. Whatever they’re doing, they skip right over us… We don’t participate in anything.”

People say the government doesn’t see or hear them. Photo: Acessomedias

The contradictions are clear – to Dorvin, elections are a way to somehow participate and bring about social services, but they don’t seem to have done so to date.

Dorvin’s confusion of “elections” with service-delivery and “development” is not surprising. Earlier this spring, President Rene Préval said much the same thing:

“If, when my mandate is done, there isn’t a legitimately elected president, a parliament with a lower house and a Senate, if we don’t have elections… that will create mistrust and we won’t have development.”

Préval is correct about the details: the terms of many parliamentarians have expired already and his term expires on February 7, 2011. Thus, constitutionally speaking, the Nov. 28 elections are required. And, it is unlikely that the various donors and lenders who have made promises to assist Haiti would be comfortable if elections did not take place.

Within weeks of the January 12 catastrophe, the “international community” began to push them, with diplomats like Edmond Mulet, UN Special Representative to Haiti, saying they are “a significant step in the process of consolidating democracy and re-establishing the state.”

Colin Granderson, former Assistant Secretary of CARICOM, who spent most of the 1990s working for a UN/OAS human rights mission, returned this summer to lead an OAS/CARICOM Elections Observation Mission charged with assuring the elections are credible.

Granderson told Haiti Grassroots Watch that the 2010 elections are “important” and, like Préval, underlined the need for a “legitimate” president and parliament in order to assure Haiti’s “reconstruction.”

Granderson, Mulet and Préval are all correct about the legitimacy issue, but all fail to note that Haiti and her elected officials suffered under severe economic and humantarian crises long before January 12. And now, in addition to these continuing crises, Haiti is also in the midst of a political institutional crisis that elections won’t necessarily solve.

Last January, the Haitian parliament approved a special “Emergency Law” that handed a great deal of power over to the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission, a body dominated by former US President Bill Clinton and foreign funders. The law gives the commission the power to “carry out the Development Plan for Haiti” until at least August 2011.

“How can free and fair elections occur when a State of Emergency is in place?” University of Virginia Professor Robert Fatton asked at the recent Haitian Studies Association Conference held at Brown University.

Fatton noted that due to the Commission and the multiplicity of foreign consultants, funders and agencies, Haiti has suffered a “virtual loss of sovereignty.”

“It remains unclear how an elected parliament will function in an environment dominated by the international commission,” Fatton said.

Of course, those who are part of the current system – members or staff of the ruling political Inite coalition, elecitons workers, etc. – believe in, or appear to believe in, the 2010 elections as the panacea to Haiti’s ills.

“The mandate of the current government is ending, so there has to be a replacement,” noted Nicolas Jean Louis, formerly of Fanmi Lavalas and now part of Inite. Jean Louis is serving his third term as head of the communal executive committee (CASEC) for Chomèy, 9th communal section of Bainet, on Haiti’s south coast.

“We need people to make choices so we can have a good government, a good parliament, good NGOs who will work with us, so that we can get these people out from under the tents and see what treatment is going to be delivered for this epidemic which is killing people.”

Like Préval, Jean Louis is convinced elections equal improved social services.

What have 23 years of elections delivered so far?

Granderson is the first to admit that Haiti’s “democratic transition” has not been an unequivocal success. Coups, repression, assassinations, exiles, instability. Nor have there been many tangible improvements in the economic and social conditions for Haiti’s citizens.

“From the point of view of the performance of democracy here, the results have been very low. That’s clear. But I don’t think that we should throw out the baby with the bath water as far as democracy is concerned… Things are starting to change… In my opinion we are witnessing an evolution.”

But what kind of evolution?

Merchants who covered the ruling party’s posters with their second-hand jeans stand near grafitti calling for the return of dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier. Photo: Acessomedias

Haiti Grassroots Watch asked Anselme Remy, a 25-year professor at the State University of Haiti (UEH) and former member of Mouvement Ouvriers Paysan (MOP) party. Remy – who spent over 20 years in exile the US and who was professor at Northeastern State University, Clark and Fisk universities as well as the University of the District of Columbia – has been involved with progressive movements in Haiti since the 1950s.

Remy was part of team that surrounded the 18-day Daniel Fignolé government in 1957, was chased into exile in the 1960s, was part of the Lavalas movement in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and because of his defense of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and constitutional order, was beaten badly during the 1991-1994 coup. Reny was also president of the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) in 1994 and 1995.

[Read Anselme Remy’s thoughts on the 1990 elections]

Remy disagreed with Granderson’s assessment.

“Granderson is an employee, a parrot. He’s repeating the formula they have given him,” he said.

“There have been so many elections now, I’ve stopped counting. But these kinds of elections are a waste of time, a waste of money, and they represent an anti-national compromise,” he added.

“What they are calling ‘democracy’ is just a carnival which permits those who have money, or access to money, to exploit the misery and the ignorance of the people…

Those 19 carnival bands [the 19 presidential candidates] will do the same thing as their predecessor. There won’t be any difference. It’s as if I showed you this house and I said that every five years I gave it a new coat of paint… You can’t tell me it’s a new house. It’s the same house.”

Remy, who teaches anthropology and sociology, explained that the type of democracy being promoted in Haiti is typically called “bourgeois democracy.”

Presidential candidates approved by the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP).

Whereas there are “thousands and thousands of ways for people to choose their representatives,” in bourgeois democracy, participation is limited to voting that occurs every two or four or five years.

“There is the appearance that it is ‘free,’ that everyone is ‘equal,’ but in fact, we are in a class society, and not everyone has the same access to resources, nor do they have the same capacity or access to power…

“The current elections offer a classic example of bourgeois democracy. There are a series of qualifications you need to fulfill to participate that show clearly the class character. For example to be [presidential] candidate, you need give a deposit of 500,000 gourdes… about US $12,000. That’s a fortune in Haiti! …

“This means that the day I become president, I don’t represent the people who voted for me; I am governing for the people who gave me the 500,000 gourdes.”

That system of campaign finance is already well underway in the US, where candidates and parties accept millions of dollars from corporations and banks in order to finance their campaigns. Senate candidates now regularly spend US$50 million, and in the 2008 race, Barack Obama spent $740 million.

Remy called the US elections system “even more obscene” than what is happening in Haiti… so far, at least.

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