HAITI | No credible elections in Haiti without electoral reform

HAITI | No credible elections in Haiti without  electoral reform

MONTEGO BAY, July 10, 2021 -  I am highly disappointed in the position taken by former Jamaican ambassador to the UN Curtis Ward in throwing cold water on CARICOM’s offer to play a lead role in the national dialogue needed to bring all the parties together in preparation for national elections.

CARICOM Chairman Gaston Browne has offerred  the assistance of the regional body.CARICOM Chairman Gaston Browne has offerred the assistance of the regional body.Perhaps if CARICOM had insisted on playing a similar role in Guyana, in ensuring the well needed national dialogue on race and electoral reform, the country would not be tethering on the brink of racial eruption due to the mistrust between the two major political parties and their ethnitic majorities.

In a similar manner, there is no doubt that in this time of heightened crisis, occasioned by the murder of President Jovenel Moïse, the Haitian people are anxious to move forward and out away the violence and mistruct that are holding them back,  but they are at pains to trust anyone from the government or the opposition to conduct this constructive dialogue.

Journalist for the Haitian Times Sam Bojarski told Al Jazeera that what he is picking up is that the Haitian people want a national dialogue! “The people want all the different actors in the country to come together and create a stable environment for elections. They are fearful about what's to come. I Don't think people trust the current forces in charge to organize a credible process for elections right now,” Bojarski said.

This file photo taken on May 23, 2018, shows Haitian President Jovenel Moise (L) and Haitian First Lady Martine Moise at the National Palace in Port-au-Prince [File: Hector Retamal/AFP]This file photo taken on May 23, 2018, shows Haitian President Jovenel Moise (L) and Haitian First Lady Martine Moise at the National Palace in Port-au-Prince [File: Hector Retamal/AFP]CARICOM has a golden opportunity to utilize its Good Offices in making that dialogue happen, to come across as non-partisan, and to do justice to the Haitian people in a manner that neither the United States, Canada nor the United Nations are able to, given the rocky history of their relationship with the Haitian people.

Following foillowing a review of the situation  in the aftermath of Moïse’s assassination, CARICOM offered to assist and Jamaica’s foreigh minister Minister Kamina Johnson Smith told parliament that Haiti had not asked for assistance from regional security forces in the wake of the assassination of  President Jovenel Moïse on Wednesday.

She said Haiti has not requested any military support from CARICOM,"  noting that  Jamaica and CARICOM had been working with President Moïse to help to restore Haiti's institutions and ensure elections are held. She said because that country's institutions are not optimised, "it makes it difficult to follow through on certain issues."

Haitian Police General Inspector Leon Charles speaks at a press conference at the Prime Minister's residence in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, July 8, 2021. /GettyHaitian Police General Inspector Leon Charles speaks at a press conference at the Prime Minister's residence in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, July 8, 2021. /GettySenior Research Associate from the Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR) Jake Johnston pointed out that prior to last Wednesday’s  murder of President Jovenel Moïse, Haiti had been in a perpetual state of political uncertainty, caused primarily by international interventions and international policy of countries like the United States and organizations like the United Nations.

“To look to them for solutions is really misguided,” Johnston lamented. However he noted that “the important thing moving forward is to listen to those voices in Haiti including  civil society organizations, who have been unanimous and quite clear about what they want to see going forward.”

That doesn’t involve foreign intervention, but rather putting together a credible, non-partisan transition government to oversee a return to democracy, because, again this democracy did not disappear with the assassination of president Moïse, its been undermined for many many years,including by these same foreign actors,” Johnston opined.

The CEPR research Associate said any elections that are conducted this year will not be credible and will not be accepted because all the mechanisms needed to ensure free and fair elections are not yet in place and will not be in place by September. 

Johnston said he did not see the September timeline for elections being adhered to. “I don't think that even those who say they support the elections truly believe that they will be able to do this, as this had been an ongoing debate and discussion for some time, this push forward to elections.”

He pointed out that the international actors, including the United States need to change their policy framework as it relates to Haiti.

Prime Minister of Haiti, Claude Joseph, who has pledged to continue efforts for the staging of the referendum and the organization of new elections in the country.Prime Minister of Haiti, Claude Joseph, who has pledged to continue efforts for the staging of the referendum and the organization of new elections in the country.Johnston said  over the last six months, the United States among other players has been insistent that despite the lack of conditions for free and fair elections on the ground in Haiti,  that elections must go forward. He said this has helped contribute to the crisis and really ratcheted up tensions and pushed the nation to this point that it is in today.”

Jenna Ben-Yehuda from the Truman National Security Project which consists of policy experts, academics, and other thought leaders who anticipate and articulate new global challenges, said “Haiti needs to ultimately solve this political crisis on its own and come to an electoral outcome that is supported by the Haitian people.”

She however cautioned,  “I think it's virtually impossible to guarantee a process that would be widely viewed as credible absent some sort of external internationally supported process.”

Before we even get to elections though, we really should be talking about some kind of stabilization mechanism to keep the peace on the ground,” she said.

 Ben-Yehuda observed that “there is a very high propensity for widespread political violence; the gangs are armed to the teeth,and police have been over-run in recent months by gangs and  there have been a number of gruesome killings of police officers,” she noted.

“We just can't really capture the full extent of the political crisis that's been ongoing for some time. But before we can get to talk of Haiti solving its political future, which of course it must in order to for it to be tenable and sustainable in the long term, we need a stabilization aspect to calm the elements on the ground so that kids can go to school, so that businesses can reopen, as the airport and the border remain closed, and we need an investigation into who was behind this mercenary attack,” Ben-Yehuda concluded.

In all the talk about what Regional Leaders need to do, there has been not a single mention of the 15 member CARICOM trading bloc of which Haiti is a full member. The Regional organization needs to reach out to the interim government in Haiti via its back channels, in an effort to go into Haiti and make itself visible and useful.

Following Moïse’s murder and the wounding of his wife in the wee hours of Wednesday morning, Prime Minister Claude Joseph immediately took charge and announced a State of Emergency lasting two weeks.

Prior to his seemingly well orchestrated and well financed assassination,Moïse had named another man, Ariel Henry just days before to take over from Joseph as prime minister but he was never sworn in. 

In the meantime, the situation on the ground is highly unstable. Joseph has appealed to Haitians to remain calm. He said Moïse’s body, which sustained bullet wounds to the head, was removed to the morgue, and the First Lady Martine was out of danger and undergoing treatment in a Miami hospital.

Moïse’s death came as he was in the middle of a political crisis. Food and fuel are scarce; 60% of the population makes less than US2-dollars a day; Gang violence and kidnappings are common; Parliament had been suspended for the past two years; There have been demands for him to step down as his term came to an end on February 7 this year which he has disputed; The Chief Justice just died from complications related to COVID-19 and political opponents charged that Moïse’s was trying to undermine the constitution.

Haiti’s interim government yesterday asked the U.S. to deploy troops to protect key infrastructure as it tries to stabilize the country and prepare for elections in the aftermath of President Jovenel Moïse’s assassination.

Joseph’s surprise request for U.S. military support is reminiscent of the uproar following Haiti’s last presidential assassination, in 1915, when an angry mob dragged President Vilbrun Guillaume Sam out of the French Embassy and beat him to death. In response, President Woodrow Wilson sent the Marines into Haiti, justifying the American military occupation — which lasted nearly two decades — as a way to avert anarchy.

Haiti also sent a letter to the United Nations requesting assistance, said U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq. The letter asked for troops and security at key installations, according to a U.N. source.

“We definitely need assistance and we’ve asked our international partners for help,” Interim Prime  Minister Claude Joseph told The Associated Press in a phone interview late Friday. “We believe our partners can assist the national police in resolving the situation.”

This is reminiscent of what took place in the aftermath of President Aristide’s departure in 2004, when there was a three month stabilization force that went to Haiti which was the predecessor of the United Nations Peacekeeping operation which remained in force for thirteen years. The peacekeeping force left about four years ago following allegations of sexual assault and a cholera epidemic.

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