Deconstructing Another Right-Wing Victory in Haiti

by Kim Ives (Haiti Liberte)
The largest and
most important percentage to emerge from Haiti’s Nov. 20, 2016 election is that
78.31% of the country’s 6.2 million eligible voters did not vote.*
            Some could not obtain their National
Identification Card (CIN) or find their name on the long voter lists posted on
the gates of huge voting centers. Others could not get to their assigned center
because they live or work too far away, perhaps in another part of the country.
In fact, the whole “voting center” system, which is different from that used in
the 1990s when participation was much higher, has objectively suppressed the
votes of many poor, itinerant Haitians.
            Nonetheless, it appears that the
vast majority of Haitians remain disenchanted with or unmoved by the candidates
offered in the last four presidential contests in 2010, 2011, 2015, and 2016,
or have lost faith in elections as a means to change their miserable lot.
Participation in all those contests lurked at about one quarter of the
electorate. The November 2016 polling is one of the lowest turnouts for a
presidential election in Haiti and the Western Hemisphere.
            Of the 21.69% of voters who did turn
out, preliminary results of the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) gave:
55.67% to Jovenel Moïse of former president Michel Martelly’s Haitian Bald
Headed Party (PHTK); 19.52% to Jude Célestin of the Alternative League for
Progress and Haitian Emancipation (LAPEH), an affiliate of former president
René Préval; 11.04% to Moïse Jean-Charles of the Dessalines Children (Pitit
Desalin) party, a Lavalas break-away; and 8.99% to Maryse Narcisse of former
president Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s Lavalas Family Political Organization (FL).
Final results are scheduled to be announced on Dec. 29, 2016.
            The FL has charged that the
preliminary results reflect an “electoral coup d’état,” and LAPEH and seven
senators claim that many ballots lacked the necessary voter signatures or
fingerprints to make them valid.
            Indeed, the results’ announcement,
originally scheduled for Sun., Nov. 27, was postponed until the next day at
1:00 p.m., and then for another nine hours after that. Radio stations excitedly
buzzed with accounts of fraud and struggle within the CEP. In one Radio Kiskeya
interview greatly debated on social media, Harold Désinor, a supposed
specialist is cyber-crime, claimed that over 60% of the voter tallies (procés verbal) were fraudulent or
irregular, that the results were being changed from 46% for Jovenel and 26% for
Jude to 58% and 18% respectively, and that four of the nine CEP members were
refusing to sign off on the preliminary results. Indeed, three CEP members did
not sign the paper listing the results, which were released after 10 p.m. on
Nov. 28, but, at press time, they had not publicly given their reasons why.
            The FL, for one, has vowed to take
their objections to the National Electoral Complaints and Challenges Bureau
(BCEN). Since the days right after the Nov. 20 election, the party has been
holding spirited street demonstrations in Port-au-Prince denouncing the contest
as fraudulent. While some cases of fraud are likely to be discovered, they
probably will not change the final outcome enough to stop a PHTK first-round
victory, which comes with a 50% plus one vote result or a 25% spread between
first and second place. Already, of 11,870 tally sheets, 1,252 have been set
aside by the CEP, and 118 have not yet been received.
            Jovenel Moïse’s likely win seems to
fit a pattern of electoral victories by right-wing businessmen across the
hemisphere: Juan Orlando Hernández in Honduras (2013), Mauricio Macri in
Argentina (2015), and Donald Trump in the U.S. (2016). Jovenel, 48,
crisscrossed Haiti promising jobs, holding up his successful business of
exporting bananas to Europe.
            Clearly, the PHTK candidate, known
as “Nèg Bannann” also outspent all
his rivals. While the source of his campaign’s extensive funding remains
unclear, it is certain that he benefitted from the millions of dollars which
the Martelly clique skimmed from the PetroCaribe fund, a multibillion
dollar pot of petroleum sales receipts made possible by Venezuela for public
welfare projects. Without hiding its brazen political patronage, the Martelly
regime used these projects – like Ede Pèp
(Help the People), Aba Grangou (Down
with Hunger), et Ti Manman Cheri
(Dear Little Mother) – to give away free meals, vehicles, and houses to win
over Haiti’s poor, the traditional Lavalas base.
            The PetroCaribe fund also allowed
the PHTK machine to have the most posters, the largest billboards, the best
produced radio spots, ads on Digicel 50 gourdes cellphone recharge cards, and
sound-boats blasting the coast with their propaganda. Their candidate had the
money to distribute the most “aid” after Hurricane Matthew ravaged the south in
October and to campaign more widely and impressively deep in the countryside,
not just the cities.
            Jovenel also hired the only
professional election consulting firm, the Madrid-based Ostos & Sola, which
had ensured Martelly’s 2011 victory, with a little help from then Secretary of
State Hillary Clinton. The same firm, linked to Republican Senator John McCain
and the National Endowment for Democracy’s International Republican Institute
(IRI), also helped elect other right-wing presidents like Mexico’s Felipe
Calderón (2006) and Guatemala’s Otto Perez Molina (2011).
            Finally, one has to look at what has
weakened Haiti’s progressive parties. In 1990 and 2000, Jean-Bertrand Aristide
won the presidency with 1.6 and 2.2 million votes, versus the 595,000 who
apparently voted for Jovenel this year. Immediately after both of Aristide’s
elections, the U.S. government immediately began to sabotage his government,
resulting in the coups d’état of 1991 and 2004. In the words of lawyer Brian
Concannon, Jr., his governments were never allowed the opportunity of
“demonstrating how democracy can work.” Therefore, many young Haitians, who don’t
remember the brutal Duvalier dictatorship which ended in 1986, associate the
Lavalas reigns under which they grew up with instability, deprivation, and
            While Aristide’s reputation can
still turn out a large crowd, as the 2016 campaign showed, the FL candidate he
stumped for, Dr. Maryse Narcisse, was not a public speaker and did not generate
great passion in the Lavalas base. The FL had been excluded from elections
since the 2004 coup.
            Meanwhile, the charismatic former
Sen. Moïse Jean-Charles, who had been in the forefront of denouncing the
Martelly regime’s corruption and repression, gained national recognition for
his courage and leadership but was expelled from the FL for various ideological
and tactical differences. He proposed a more Dessalinien (i.e.
anti-imperialist) path to Aristide’s reliance on the bluff-based political
triangulation tactics (mawonaj) of
Toussaint Louverture.
            After launching the Pitit Desalin
split-off in 2015, Moïse Jean-Charles was unable to build it into an effective,
disciplined party based on principles and a program, relying heavily on dubious
alliances with political opportunists and even enemies.  As a result, Moïse’s party suffered almost
regular defections and  betrayals. His
partisans also began to clash with those of the FL, confrontations which helped
neither campaign.
            In short, divisions in the
progressive camp helped Jovenel Moïse, around whom Haiti’s right wing and
neo-Duvalierists rallied.
            Despite his likely (but compromised)
victory with only 12% of the electorate, Jovenel is sure to face a difficult
five year term. Venezuela, to which the Haitian government still owes over nine
months of back gas payments, is now in dire economic straits. A PHTK government
will no longer have the deep PetroCaribe pot to dip into, if indeed the
PetroCaribe program even continues.
            Furthermore, the Haitian
government’s anti-corruption unit UCREF put out a scathing report on the
malfeasance of Jovenel’s company Agritrans under the Martelly regime. Although
the report’s revelations were not enough to sink his campaign, they will
certainly return with a vengeance if the jobs and prosperity Jovenel promised
fail to materialize.
            It is inevitable too, if the
apparent losers don’t coalesce into a single coalition to fight and scuttle
these election results like those of Oct. 25, 2015, that the progressive
currents, including the FL and Pitit Desalin, will reflect on their defeat, and
this may also lead to some future unity.
            Again, the figure to remember is the
5.2 million disenfranchised and discouraged Haitians who did not vote, not the
one million who did. They will be the tinder in a box which is already
surrounded by many burning matches.

* If we accept the CEP’s figure of 6,189,253 eligible voters participating at 21.69% (according to the Haitian Coalition of Electoral Observation), then 1,342,449 voted. However the CEP’s preliminary figures only cite 1,069,646 valid votes (along with 58,120 voided votes or votes nuls). That leaves a discrepancy of 214,683 votes unaccounted for. Are these votes contained in the 1,252 voter tallies quarantined and the 118 not yet received (as of Nov. 28)? Furthermore, authorities have said that, after Hurricane Matthew, some 600,000 people applied for new voter cards (Carte d’identification nationale or CIN) but were unable to get them. This makes over 800,000 eligible voters whose votes have not been counted. The legal challenges of fraud may further increase this figure. Since Jovenel Moïse’s lead over Jude Célestin is only 386,593, the final results, to be announced Dec. 29, are far from certain.