Political Crisis in Haiti Worsens: Presidential Deadline Missed

Political Crisis in Haiti Worsens: Presidential Deadline Missed
24th April 2016
Annual General Meeting July 2016: the Haiti Support Group
Caribbean Regional Seminar in London

Article courtesy of Jacqueline Charles at the Miami Herald. Original piece was published on 23 April 2016 and can be accessed here.

Once more, Haiti is missing an election deadline Sunday — and will not have an elected president in office by May 14, the date stipulated in a Feb. 5 political accord to transfer power from the country’s current caretaker government to an elected one.

According to the political accord, Haiti’s 5.8 million voters should be heading to the ballot box. But a weeks-long political battle over the formation of the interim government, the late seating of a new elections body and the calls for a vote recount led to no official scheduling of the date by the Provisional Electoral Council, and no presidential decree officially calling voters to the polls.

“Today for the elections to happen you have to ask ‘Do the conditions exist?’ ” provisional President Jocelerme Privert told the Miami Herald during a visit to the United Nations where Haiti was among 175 countries Friday that signed the Paris climate agreement. He expects an elections calendar to be published by the end of May, he said.

Privert’s acknowledgment that the April 24 election day specified in the accord will not be respected comes amid immense pressure from the U.S. government and others in the international community that Haiti resume its interrupted electoral process as soon as possible to put an elected president in office by May 14.

“Have the reasons that caused the electoral council to postpone the elections been addressed and resolved?” Privert said. “Don’t forget there were a lot of reasons why the elections didn’t happen.”

Haiti’s previous elections body twice postponed the country’s second round to complete parliament and elect a president amid fraud allegations that fueled violent street protests, calls for a verification of the results and a boycott by opposition runoff candidate Jude Célestin.

As a result of the delay, supporters of former President Michel Martelly and his presidential pick, Jovenel Moïse, have announced nationwide protests Sunday demanding the second round.

Senatorial candidate Guy Philippe, who is wanted in the U.S. under a sealed drug trafficking indictment, has also announced plans to hit the streets in support of Moïse’s elections demands.

Opposition candidates and local electoral observation groups have insisted that the second round can’t happen until light has been shed on the Aug. 9 legislative and Oct. 25 presidential first rounds. They charge that the results were tainted by widespread ballot tampering, multiple voting and “massive” fraud.

Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio joined U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and members of the U.N. Security Council in calling on Haiti to quickly resume its interrupted electoral process. The United States has said verification isn’t necessary and that none of the international observers in the Oct. 25 elections found any evidence to support the fraud claims. Haitian-American organizations and Antigua’s ambassador to the Organization of American States, Ronald Sanders, who recently led an OAS mission to Haiti, have called on the U.S. to support verification to ensure legitimacy for whoever ultimately becomes president.

Moïse, who returned to Haiti on Thursday after making the rounds in Washington, refuted the fraud claims and said opponents are using it to get him out of the race. His PHTK party, which has come out against any verification commission, declined a recent invitation from Privert to join other political party, religious and civil society leaders during a two-day work session to devise the rules of engagement for a five-member independent electoral verification commission.

Those rules were delivered on Tuesday to Privert, who was supposed to meet Saturday with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon before returning to Port-au-Prince. The U.N., which has troops on the ground in Haiti, is concerned about the repeated delays of the final vote.

Sources in the government say during Privert’s absence from Haiti, foreign embassies have been stepping up pressure on interim Prime Minister Enex Jean-Charles and parliamentarians to amend the verification commission’s terms of reference that, as of now, give the commission’s five members “the final word” on the fate of the elections.

The international community, which contributed heavily to the election’s $80 million price tag, wants to be able to challenge any decision by the verification panel, which could ultimately lead to the cancellation of the presidential vote or some legislative races, a source told the Herald.

“One of the biggest achievements we have in the terms of reference is that all of the actors recognize that regardless of the recommendations the commission comes up with, they’ve agreed to respect it,” Privert said.

Privert said in all of his meetings with foreign diplomats, he has stressed the same message: “There is absolutely no way that you can assure political stability in Haiti without ensuring the credibility of the electoral process.”

He has an additional message, which he’s already delivered to the political parties and those demanding verification: “This will not be a political commission but a technical one. And the people who will make it up are people who have credibility.”

Privert noted that Martelly’s own electoral evaluation commission, which he formed in December 2015 after months of pressure, found that “there were a lot of grave irregularities, and the commission demanded that there be a profound verification,” including of decisions made done by the elections tribunal in some contested legislative races.

“None of that was done,” he said.

Martelly recently spoke out against the elections delay. In a letter to Privert, he accused the former head of the Haitian Senate of dragging his feet on elections and violating the terms of the Feb. 5 accord that the two negotiated ahead of Martelly’s departure.

Privert’s supporters have hit back, reminding Martelly that the crisis was triggered by Haiti trying to pull off the impossible — the holding of three election rounds in four months — after the country failed to hold elections for four years under Martelly.

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