Real Elections Winner? HSG reporting from Port-au-Prince 24-03-2011
I admit it wasn’t as much of a mess as I had seen on November 28th. Even before last Sunday’s run-off there were indications that moderate progress had been made. Phone numbers widely publicized could help people find out where to vote. Last time a lot of people got angry because their name didn’t show up on the voter lists. The Director of the Electoral Council, Gaillot Dorsainvil, told a press conference on Sunday evening that the real winner is already known: the Haitian people.
Dorsainvil also said that people who couldn’t vote in the first round were able to vote now and that this was a great accomplishment. If that was really the truth, the four polling stations I visited in Port-au-Prince must have been the highly unusual exception. I saw a lot of people still looking for their names on the lists. Some gave up quickly, some cursed the incompetence of the organisers. Others wandered around in a state of confusion, with the text message on their phone in their hand: “vote in bureau number 5 in polling station “Ecole Nationale de Colombie”.
Joseph Nicson who showed me the text message, his identity card in the other hand, didn’t find his name in Bureau No. 5. Neither did he find it in any of the twelve bureaus in that polling station. A supervisor tried her best to help, but to no avail. “This is a problem for the electoral council”, another supervisor told me. However, there is no official way to register such cases. In the end the only thing these frustrated voters can do is to go home. Just as last time.
It must have been by simple coincidence that I ran into another young man in the same polling station showing me exactly the same message on his mobile. Also Bureau No. 5 in Ecole Nationale de Colombie. He wasn’t happy, to say the least. He had come by public transport from Carrefour, about 10 km away, and said he would have gone to Gonaives if that had been the message.
A young woman tried hard to find her name on the lists of the different bureaus in another polling station. She had been told through the call centre to vote there. When she arrived, she didn’t find her name, called back and confirmed this was the place where she should vote. She also went home frustrated.
Most of the polling stations opened too late. They were supposed to open at 6 am, but a lot of them only opened between 8 and 9 am. Materials were missing in many of them: either it was the ballot boxes, or it was the ballot papers, or the indelible ink, although the last problem wasn’t taken seriously everywhere. In Canape Vert, voting reportedly started without the ink. As if it didn’t matter that you could vote multiple times.
Well, don’t blame the Haitian authorities for the materials not arriving on time. MINUSTAH was responsible for the logistics, as UN police confirmed to me. It is obvious that they failed. Nevertheless Colin Granderson, Head of the joint OAS/Caricom electoral observation mission, told a reporter they did take the problem seriously and would investigate which institution was responsible for the late arrival of materials. But even if he got to the bottom of it, would it make any difference?
All this is democracy to the degree the international community believes is good enough for Haiti. The Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) has been criticised since long before the earthquake. It excluded major political parties such as Fanmi Lavalas, showed a clear bias towards the presidential platform INITE, who were able to start putting up huge billboard more than a month before the electoral campaign was allowed to start officially, and committed a number of other infractions of the Haitian constitution and electoral law. But no matter at what cost, these elections had to take place. A “request” from the international community is hard to ignore by a weakened government.
The result was the bad joke that masqueraded as the first round of the elections on November 28th, with wide-spread ballot stuffing, intimidations, violence and tens of thousands of people unable to vote (and in fact with more than a million people displaced in make-shift camps how could it be any different?). The OAS said in their press statement shortly after the first round that the result was acceptable even if 4% of the polling stations had been “destroyed”. After protesters took to the streets following the preliminary results the OAS “suggested corrections” to the result of the presidential contest. They must have thought that irregularities could only have taken place in the presidential elections, as they seem not have considered it necessary to investigate any of the results of the first round parliamentary and senate elections.
By pushing ahead prematurely and financing a clearly fraudulent electoral process the international community chose to invest in destabilization. Whoever will be the loser of the Presidential contest (and indeed losers in the parliamentary elections) may suddenly remember the many violations of the law and either challenge the results in court or in the streets. Whoever will be declared winner of these elections, it seems as if the loser is already known: the Haitian people. But when did that ever matter?