by Francklyn B. Geffrard
The Jun. 19 telephone conversation between Haitian President Michel Martelly and U.S. Vice President Joe Biden seems to have had some impact on the behavior of the Haitian regime. Previously, the government was basically silent on the question of elections. But following Biden’s phone call, the organization of municipal, local, and partial Senate elections seems to suddenly have become a priority for the government. However, the Martelly government pointedly failed to mention in its official announcement about the conversation that Washington had encouraged it to hold elections before the end of this year. What a paradox!
The regime now appears so concerned about elections that Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe held many meetings with the members of the extraordinary body responsible for organizing the elections, the Transitional College of the Permanent Electoral Council (CTCEP). In less than a week, Lamothe met three times with the electoral councilors and other sectors involved in the organization of the next elections. Lamothe even announced the disbursement of 300 million gourdes [$7.07 million] out of a total budget of 600 million gourdes [$14.14 million] to start the electoral process. In a statement outside of the Jun. 24 meeting Lamothe said that “elections are essential and a priority for the government.”
He seems to have finally realized that not organizing the next elections could have a serious impact on his political career. In the circle of power, Laurent Lamothe is presented as the future presidential candidate of the “Tet Kale” (Bald Headed) clan, as Martelly’s clique is called. It remains to be seen if he has already received the blessing of his friend Michel Martelly who presumably would appoint his heir in order to prepare his own return to power. The partial legislative elections will be a test for power. And even though the regime still enjoys the support of a powerful sector of the international community (i.e. Washington), mistakes will not be tolerated. It must avoid holding fraudulent elections which could send the country into a permanent electoral crisis.
Joe Biden’s statements during the teleconference resuscitated the Haitian regime which was wilting after repeated failed attempts to meet with U.S. President Barack Obama and breathed new life into the electoral issue in Haiti . However, no date has yet been announced for the elections which were supposed to have been held since the end of 2011. The government and the electoral authorities speak only of the next elections. The election date is completely vague. The attitude is similar to the notice which can sometimes be seen in small shops: “No credit today, but tomorrow yes.” In fact, there will be never any credit, because for every day, there will always be a tomorrow. They say that the elections will be held soon, even if they take six or 12 months. They will always be forthcoming. So far, the only small concrete progress achieved towards preparing the next elections is the writing of a draft electoral law which is being sent to different parts of the country for analysis before it is sent to the Parliament for ratification.
In any self-respecting country, elections are an act of national sovereignty. It is the process by which the people choose their leaders. In recent years, many sectors have denounced foreign interference in the internal affairs of our country. They even denounce the country’s dependence on foreign aid to fund the national budget and the electoral process. They believe that elections are too expensive and should be tailored to better meet the socioeconomic realities of the country. Paradoxically, however, there are some among such nationalist critics who want foreign powers to exert more pressure on Martelly and Lamothe to organize elections by the end of this year. Haiti is a country where paradoxes are normal!
To hear Haitian government and election officials tell it, one would think that things are going fast. But that’s just appearances. Haitian leaders have a reputation for dragging their feet. In fact, they know how to play with time, even when time is working against them. They will not hesitate to drag out the process. It would be naive not to notice only that the authorities speak of elections without actually launching the electoral process itself. They have already found, without doubt, the formula which will allow them to let the clock run down while the electoral process does not budge.
It is interesting that already the CTCEP is seeking the point of view of various sectors of national life on the proposal of the draft electoral law. Because of its lack of constitutional legitimacy, it is normal that the CTCEP tries to involve everyone. It probably wants to make sure that, in the end, it is not the only one to be blamed if things go wrong. Isn’t that smart?
However, one thing is certain, this consultative process, although positive, is also likely to slow down this process that has been all but stalled for nearly two years. First, the draft document of the future electoral law will be sent to various concerned sectors to gather their opinions and recommendations. Then it will be submitted to Parliament for ratification. The Parliament will certainly take time to properly analyze the text before endorsing it, and only after this step, will the document will be forwarded to the executive. If it has no objection, the executive will publish the law in the nation’s official newspaper, Le Moniteur. At this point, the document becomes law.
Hardly reassured, many sectors, including opposition political parties, civil society, and parliamentarians continue to denounce the executive’s lack of will to organize elections by the year’s end, saying they are waiting for clear signals of the regime’s resolve. Meanwhile, they accuse the regime of wanting to make the Parliament dysfunctional by allowing lawmakers’ terms to expire. “It would be a nightmare scenario,” said the leader of the Initiative of Civil Society (ISC), Rosny Desroches.
The idea would be to establish a Constituent Assembly whose mission would be to draft a new constitution with all the ensuing consequences. In reality, although it would be anti-democratic, if the Tèt Kale regime wants to embark on this dangerous adventure, nothing prevents it. The regime has a majority in the House and Senate. It only would need to get its supporters in Parliament to not appear at the opening of the ordinary session of the legislative year on the second Monday of the January 2014 session. But even with the support of the international community, such a maneuver could backfire. We do not exactly know the extent of the protest the opposition and other organized sectors of the country could organize against the regime.
Already, a showdown is looming between the government and the Parliament. The executive is preparing to use the 2009 Electoral Law to say that the Parliament is defunct on the second Monday of January 2014. However, Senators and Deputies are raising the specter of impeaching the President. Personal interests lace this entire battle.
Meanwhile, Emmanuel Ménard, the CTCEP’s president, announced a battery of innovations in the electoral law including electronic voting, voting for Haitians abroad, and early voting for old and people with reduced mobility. Isn’t that nice? For sure, the CTCEP is promising a great deal. Is it a dream or an illusion?
With respect to overseas Haitians voting, the CTCEP would have to implement many things for this to become a reality. Emmanuel Ménard did not specify who can vote and how. Would the vote be just for those who already hold Haitian electoral cards? Would they issue new cards for those wishing to vote in the next elections? Can those who have acquired another citizenship vote? In fact, the vote of Haitians abroad as suggested by the CTCEP is a proposition fraught with many unknowns.
The issue of Haitian expatriates voting is too important to be treated superficially. A clause in the electoral law is not enough to solve this problem. The vote of Haitians overseas should be a first step towards their integration and effective participation in the political life of the country. But we know that the 1987 Constitution imposes certain barriers. As long as the constitutional restrictions remain, it will be difficult for Haitians to participate in the affairs of their country. The real issue of the participation of overseas compatriots is their inclusion and involvement in the management of public affairs. The main step towards this integration should be to lift the constitutional barriers. This should be done by an amendment to the Constitution, including the articles on dual citizenship. If you do not deal with the fundamentals, one risks orchestrating a huge exercise in demagogy.