Peace and development will be endangered in Haiti if the United States and other nations insist that the interim government holds the second round of a truncated election for a President of the Republic without a verification process of the first round that took place on October 25 last year.
The Secretary-General of the Organisation of American States (OAS), Luis Almagro, who visited Haiti on 13 and 14 April, was right to say that the Haitian authorities should be given time to organise the elections. The Secretary-General had invited me to accompany him to Haiti since I had led an OAS mission there that oversaw an agreement between the political players that led to the creation of an interim government after the constitutional departure from office of President Michel Martelly on February 6. Other duties on behalf of my own government caused me not to join Mr Almagro, but had I done so I would have fully endorsed his statement.
Indeed, in an interview with Jacqueline Charles of the Miami Herald published on April 8, I had argued that verifying the disputed elections is vital to avoiding a deepening political crisis on the island (http://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/haiti/article70818937.html#storylink=cpy).
The reason for my conviction is precisely because there is a widespread and overwhelming belief in Haiti that the first round elections were seriously flawed. Among the over 50 groups with whom my team and I interfaced in Haiti in February, all except Martelly’s Parti Haïtien Têt Kalé (PHTK) party, expressed concern; some stronger than others, but none without misgivings.
Among the groups from the wider international community that observed the October 25 elections was the OAS, and during our exchanges with the Haitian groups we faced continuous claims that the Organisation contributed to foisting the elections flawed results on the Haitian people by declaring them acceptable. Of course, this allegation was robustly resisted not only because it was absolutely untrue, but also because we knew it had become a convenient political crutch for all the candidates who had performed badly at the polls. But, resisting an ill-conceived belief does not extinguish it, particularly as other Observer missions declared that the elections were plagued by irregularities.
The admission that, while numerous, the irregularities were not significant enough to materially affect the outcome of the elections, did little to assuage suspicion. And, the problem is that like a sore that has been allowed to fester for almost 6 months, suspicion of the elections has spread more widely in the Haitian body politic.
The October 25 elections delivered a presidential run-off between Jovenel Moïse of Martelly’s PHTK party after he received 32.76% of the vote and Jude Célestin of the Ligue Alternative Pour le Progrés et l’Emancipation Haïtienne (Lapeh) party, who received 25.29%. The other 50 candidates shared less than 32%. That run-off was not completed before Martelly was due to demit office on February 6.
It was that failure to hold the second round of elections amid political confusion and simmering violence that led to the February 5 political Agreement for the establishment of an interim government with a time table for the holding of the run-off elections on April 24 and the installation of an elected President on May 14.
As it turned out, continuing distrust between the political actors within and outside the National Assembly which was charged, under the agreement, with the selection of an interim President and an interim Prime Minister took longer to be settled than was anticipated. The same distrust continues to haunt the second round of the elections.
The spectre of a flawed first round election hangs ominously over the second. This is why the majority of political players are insisting on verification. The argument is simple: if the first round was tainted, however strenuous the scrutiny of the second round, the entire process is contaminated.
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. Consequently, the UN forces in Haiti, that contributing countries are keen to withdraw, will be compelled to remain and the flow of refugees to the US particularly will resurge.
Against this background it is far better to verify the first round elections before proceeding with the second. I was heartened by a reported statement on behalf of the United States by its Special Coordinator on Haiti, Ambassador Ken Merten, to the effect that if Haiti wants a verification process it should do so quickly.
In arguing that such a process would serve to validate a President who emerges from a second round elections, I had also advocated that a verification committee, drawn from civil society only, should be established swiftly and that the international community should provide it with the money and other resources to complete the verification within the shortest possible time. Once the verification is complete, the elections for the President can follow quickly.
It has been suggested that one reason for not proceeding with verification of the first round is that such massive fraud might be revealed, requiring the cancellation of the proceedings thus far, and the staging of new elections. But, if massive fraud is uncovered, is that not good reason for cancelling the October 25 poll and starring afresh? The alternative would be to join a process of imposing upon Haiti a fraudulently elected government. That could not possibly be right.
In any event, I am satisfied from my knowledge of the OAS elections observation process and the people of high integrity and professionalism that run it, that any scientific verification process by qualified and respected Haitian civil society officials will result, by and large, in the same result. What the international community should now do is to provide Haiti’s new nine-member provisional electoral council, headed by Léopold Berlanger, with the tools it needs to establish a verification committee and set it to work.
If Jovenel Moïse and Jude Célestin, who emerged from the first round as contenders, have faith in their electability, they should have no fear of verification and of their capacity for one to triumph over the other in a free and fair process.
There can be no “quick fix” in Haiti. Indeed, it is the urge for quick fixes in the past and the desire to wash hands of the country that has kept it in constant turmoil and retarded its chances for long-term political stability and economic growth.
(Sir Ronald Sanders is Antigua and Barbuda’s Ambassador to the US and the OAS. The views expressed are his own)