As President Jovenel Moïse is Sworn In: Election Observers Slam “Haiti’s Unrepresentative Democracy”

by Kim Ives (Haiti Liberte)

Former auto
parts salesman and banana exporter Jovenel Moïse, 48, became Haiti’s 58th
president on Feb. 7, 2017, in ceremonies at the Parliament and a miniature
model of the former National Palace, which was destroyed in the Jan. 12, 2010

            The President of Haiti’s Senate and
Parliament’s National Assembly, Sen. Youri Latortue, whom the U.S. Embassy has described as a “Mafia boss,”
“drug dealer,” and “poster-boy for political corruption,” draped the ceremonial
Presidential sash on his close political confederate, who takes over from
interim president Jocelerme Privert.

            Indeed, the Parliament is dominated
by senators and deputies from Moïse’s Haitian Bald Headed Party (PHTK) and
other allied right-wing parties, making the Haitian government look very
similar to that of the U.S. where another politically inexperienced businessman
promising jobs, Donald Trump,  won power
and has a Republican majority in Congress.

            A number of the parliamentarians,
including Latortue and Chamber of Deputies President Cholzer Chancy, have
well-known criminal backgrounds, including some indictments and convictions.
Indeed, one senator-elect – former soldier, police chief, and “rebel” leader
Guy Philippe – could not make the ceremonies because he is being held on drug
trafficking charges in a Miami jail cell, after having been arrested by Haitian
police and turned over to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) on Jan. 5.

            Moïse’s inaugural speech was tightly
and professionally written (as one would expect from a candidate who spent $4
million for the expertise of the Madrid-based election-engineering firm Ostos
& Sola), hitting all the usual notes.

            Saying he wants to “build a country
which makes us all proud,” Moïse, like his elected predecessor Michel Martelly,
pledged to “reform schools.” But perhaps due to the ribald Martelly’s
corruption-tarnished reputation, he also pledged to “engage myself to work for
Haiti to regain its dignity.”

            He said that “people in the diaspora
can return home,” which many are still scared to do. “Haiti has returned to the
road of democracy,” he assured, and is “a mine of riches… but the people are
in poverty because we don’t work together… We can if we want. It’s our
mentality which has to change.”

            Using the concrete imagery that
helped his campaign especially in the countryside, Moïse declared: “The day has
come for us to put the land, rivers, sun, and people together for us to develop our country.”

            He also put out a call for unity
saying “I will need everyone, all the former candidates, all the people that
voted for me, all those who didn’t vote for me, and all those who didn’t vote
at all. I need everyone. I need you all so Haiti can rise to meet this great

            Saying that “I feel a great pride to
be Haitian,” he announced that “it is time to put to work what the people voted
for last Nov. 20.” But about 80% of Haiti’s 6.2 million electorate did not cast
ballots in that election, meaning that Moïse won with only 9.55% of eligible voters, hardly a mandate.

            While saying that “the time has come
to combine integrity, morality, merit, order, and discipline,” he also
declared, with great vehemence, that “never, never, will the justice system and
Haitian institutions be used as instruments for political persecution.” This
latter declaration may be aimed at the multi-million-dollar money-laundering indictment
that still hangs over his head. He claims it is the work of political

            He gave the usual presidential
inauguration laundry list saying “we will invest in and cultivate available
lands, build roads, bridges, and electricity networks… build schools, dispensaries,
and hospitals, facilitate great tourist projects, take all the advantage we can
from the HELP and HOPE acts [of the U.S. Congress] by promoting investment in
the assembly sector.”

            In short, the cornerstones of
Moïse’s economic program appear to be the same as that of Michel Martelly and
former late dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier three decades ago: tourism and

            All three presidential runners-up –
Jude Célestin, Moïse Jean-Charles, and Maryse Narcisse – refuse to recognize
Moïse’s victory, calling it an “electoral coup d’état.” With the
record-breaking low turnout, it’s not surprising that Moïse wanted to “give
hope to all in a spirit of unity and national concord,” asserting that “I will
be the guarantor of a Haiti which is just, equitable, and stable.”

            But a 22-page report released a day before the
inauguration by the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) and the International
Association of Democratic Lawyers (IADL), both election observers, suggest that
the road ahead may be rocky for the new president.

Unrepresentative Democracy: Exclusion and Discouragement in the Nov. 20, 2016,
” lays out the problems surrounding the rise to power of Moïse and
Haiti’s right-wing parliament.

            “A large (but hard-to-quantify)
number of Haitians did not vote on Nov. 20, not because they did not want to,
but because they were unable due to difficulties in obtaining electoral cards,
registering to vote and finding their names on electoral lists,” the report
notes. “Enduring problems with Haiti’s civil registry and the organization
responsible for managing it disenfranchised many would-be voters, particularly
among the poor and in rural communities. Deficiencies with the civil registry
also opened the door to fraud via trafficked identity cards.”

            The report also notes how Washington
and its allies seem to have contributed to the critical state of Haitian
democracy today. “Paradoxically, falling participation rates have occurred
alongside massive investments by the international community in Haiti’s
electoral apparatus,” the report says. “The millions spent by the U.S. and
other Core Group countries [U.S. allies] on democracy promotion programs in the
post-Aristide era have produced an electoral system that is weaker, less
trusted and more exclusionary than what came before.”

            As a result, “[w]hile Haiti may
obtain some much-needed political stability in the short term, a president
elected by less than 10% of eligible voters faces serious
limits to his popular mandate,” the executive summary concludes. “Even more
serious questions remain about the democratic credentials of many senators and
deputies, who owe their seats more to the violence, disruptions and fraud of
the 2015 elections that put them into office than to the will of Haitian

            Overall, the neo-Duvalierist forces
which were routed from power by a popular uprising three decades ago have now
regained full control of Haiti’s government through controversial elections,
which the vast majority of Haitians took no part in and are skeptical of. It is
likely that Jovenel Moïse’s honeymoon will be short indeed.