Reeling from cholera and seeing an electoral process stumble forward under horrible conditions, the Haitian people attempted to vote. Elections for president and legislators Nov. 28 have drawn complaints and accusations of ballot stuffing, denial of the right to vote and intimidation and other problems.
Charges of rigging votes, buying votes, denying votes or tossing votes isn’t new anytime there is a “democratic process” from St. Petersburg, Fla., to Chicago, Il., to Cleveland, Ohio to Port-au-Prince in Haiti.
The troubling thing for Haiti, however, is that the country is at a critical juncture and some attempt at defusing popular dissatisfaction and anger would be good for today and tomorrow.
It has been almost a year since an earthquake plunged the country into a crisis. Instead of news about progress and success, the most widespread news has been of deaths from cholera and clashes with UN peacekeepers, who many believe are responsible for the deadly outbreak. The disease is linked to sanitation and is waterborne. It causes diarrhea, dehydration and can be fatal. The street battles with peacekeepers have also been fed by feelings that UN troops are an occupying army, not a pro-Haitian security force.
Ten months after the earthquake, some 1.3 million people remain homeless, still living in tents, under tarps or wherever they can find a place to lay their heads–despite the sun, the rain, the dust, the noise, the disease. That people are literally dying because they cannot get clean water is one sign of Haiti’s vulnerability, how badly the international community has failed and how Haiti’s hobbled national government has floundered.
But in the midst of this chaos could be a sign of hope for the future and it may have come from those who have issued complaints about the voting. After Sunday elections, 12 of the parties or candidates came together to issue some joint declarations about problems with the elections and the need to cancel the elections. Two major candidates backed away from the statement the next day, but still have called for calm.
Perhaps that joint declaration and calls for calm can open the door for some sort of compromise as a way to defuse a possible explosion as frustration and anger mount. Two popular presidential candidates and reported frontrunners–Mirlande Manigat, who has been a longtime voice of opposition, and popular musician Michel Martelly backed away from calls to cancel the election. Mr. Martelly was reported to be leading in some places where the ballots were tallied.
The results of the elections aren’t expected until Dec. 7 and a final tally should come Dec. 20 for what were described as chaotic elections at best.
“Even if calls to cancel the election go unheeded, the results may not be decisive; a runoff would take place January 16 if no candidate wins the requisite 50-percent-plus-one portion of votes in the first round. Voters cast ballots not only for President RenÃ© PrÃ©val’s successor, but also for 11 of 30 seats in the Senate and all 99 seats in the Chamber of Deputies,” noted the Council of the Americas, which describes itself as an international business organization concerned with development and the rule of law.
“MINUSTAH (the UN peacekeeper force) estimated that roughly 4.5 million voters were eligible to vote at 11,000 polling stations in 1,500 voter districts throughout Haiti. But The New York Times reports that, with services still in disarray because of earthquake destruction, electoral authorities had delivered fewer than half of roughly 400,000 new and replacement identification cards needed to vote,” the council said.
Election observers from the international community admitted problems but said voting issues were not bad enough to scrap the election. Haiti’s election council has stood by its democratic product–which has not moved those who see the council as an extension of current President Rene Preval and handpicked successor Jude Celestin.
Wyclef Jean, the Haitian American musician and humanitarian, has called for some type of international involvement, fearing the country could explode into violence if the situation is not handled properly and quickly. He was ruled ineligible to run for president but joined in the process by supporting “Sweet Mickey” Martelly.
There are plenty of Haitian and non-Haitian voices calling for cancellation of the elections.
Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research said, “From the banning of the country’s most popular party from the ballot to election day irregularities including numerous reports of ballot stuffing and the disenfranchisement of numerous eligible voters, these elections were an obvious farce from start to finish.”
“The international community should reject these elections and affirm support for democratic institutions in Haiti. Otherwise, Haiti could be left with a government that is widely seen as illegitimate,” he said.
“In Cite Soleil, for example–a Fanmi Lavalas party stronghold with a population of around 300,000–less than 100,000 people were registered to vote,” according to the center. “It is clear that the sentiment here is that the international community should have done something to provide for people’s basic needs, such as shelter, drinkable water and sanitation, and get some of the other life-threatening conditions–including the cholera outbreak–under control, before trying to hold elections,” said one staff person for the center. Lavalas is the popular party of ousted President Jean Bertrand Aristide, a champion of the Haitian masses, which was ruled ineligible in this election.
With the number of candidates, the voting problems and daily suffering in Haiti, there are more than enough sparks that could ignite this powder keg.
But none of the candidates were expected to garner the 50 percent of the vote necessary to win the presidency outright; meaning a Jan. 16 run-off between the top two vote getters would be required. Perhaps an interim government could be established to give election participants some share of power as either new elections are planned or a unity government is formed.
It would not allow the Preval government, which is not very popular, to solely remain in charge. But a unity government could begin to heal wounds and promote unity key to overcoming major problems. Such an idea may seem naÃ¯ve or impossible, but one thing is certain: If Haiti explodes there will be no winners, only losers and more years of suffering and unnecessary deaths. Against that backdrop, you can also expect the world to turn its back, excuse itself of responsibility, allow bodies to pile up and say “Haitians did this to themselves.”