'Utter Contempt for Will of the Haitian People,' Provokes Cancellation of Presidential Election

Posted Jan. 27, 2016

MP3 Interview with Jake Johnston, research associate with the Center for Economic and Policy Research, conducted by Scott Harris


Under pressure from militant street protests triggered by charges of rampant fraud and a candidate boycott of Haiti's presidential run-off election, the government of unpopular president Michel Martelly cancelled the scheduled Jan. 24 vote. This, the second cancellation of the run-off election comes amid uncertainty about the next steps in a chaotic electoral process. President Martelly's term in office officially ends on Feb. 7, and negotiations have begun to decide if an interim government would take power after Martelly's exit, or if he would remain in office until a replacement is elected.

In the first round of the presidential election on Oct. 25, Martelly's handpicked candidate, Jovenel Moise, a political unknown, won 32.8 percent of the vote, with opposition candidate Jude Celestin winning 25.3 percent of ballots cast. Celestin announced he would not participate in the Jan. 24 election due to the overt fraud and manipulation of the vote, a charge echoed by many Haitian and international observers. The second place candidate said in a statement, "Such utter contempt for the will of the Haitian people must end."

Between The Lines' Scott Harris spoke with Jake Johnston, research associate with the Center for Economic and Policy Research who talks about the charges of rampant fraud that led to the cancellation of the run-off election and the uncertain future of Haiti's electoral process.

JAKE JOHNSTON: There really had been a growing chorus from all sorts of civil society groups. You had religious leaders, human rights groups and local observers. And really key among this group towards the end was also private sector groups that generally had been supportive of the president and really called for a pause to be taken up for this election to be delayed in order for a dialogue and consensus to be reached in order to move forward. And also, key amongst this was the role of the international community of course. There's a $100 million electoral process and the international community is funding the bulk of that, including the U.S., to the tune of over $30 million, and they were pressuring for this election to happen on schedule and on Jan. 24. Then at the last minute, as these negotiations broke down to try and reach some sort of a deal, (they) sort of pulled their support for that election and started encouraging dialogue before having the election. That's sort of what did in this electoral process on Sunday, and not just sort of the protests, which became the pretext in order to blame the protest for causing this delay, which really was months in the making.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Now the second place finisher in the previous president election, Jude Celestin, he declined to participate because of the fraud. What are the declarations being made by Jude Celestin in terms of the reasons why he did not want to participate in this election, and what conditions has he set up, if any, to participate in a future date for a runoff election?

JAKE JOHNSTON: Well, key amongst the actions that have taken over the last couple of months was an evaluation commission that was actually set up by the president himself. And this is why the presidential election had first been delayed – was in order for commission to perform its evaluation. And they did come back with a pretty scathing report of the irregularities. They found that only eight percent of the tallies were totally free from any sort of irregularities. In a number of cases, there were significant irregularities; a number of people had been voting - these political party monitors were able to vote off list. This made up a significant chunk of the voters. They outlined a number of steps to be taken to move forward, amongst them, replacing the electoral council that had sort of been discredited throughout this process for a panel and the situation. It had also called for sort of taking for a further look at certain aspects of what had happened. Also, especially they pointed out was retraining and rehiring all of the poll workers that were complicit in these irregularities so that they are responsible for some of these actions that were carried out.

You know, what happened was directly after that report was issued, just a few days later, Martelly, by decree invoked this election for the 24th, so without time to really implement or see how those changes could play out, the implementation of those recommendations had sort of been the centerpoint of Celestin has been asking for – as well as many of the human rights groups and the business chambers as well – had been asking for these recommendations to be implemented.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Jake, there have been demands for Martelly's removal from office and I wonder if you would talk about the possible way forward should he leave the presidency or is succeeded by a provisional government when his term expires on Feb. 7.

JAKE JOHNSTON: Yes, that sort of remains the main sticking point in the negotiations currently for what happens next. There have been negotiations about what this would look like. And then when it came down to it on Friday again, things were revisited again, 48 hours before the election was set to begin, it was still all set, apparently. And finally, when the electoral council called for the cancellation of the election, there was no date set sort of as part of a political agreement. And so, the situation now is sort of back to the drawing books and as all sides sort of approach the table and try and find a way forward, I think the question now is who is at that table and who's trying to sort of make that decision.

Martelly has sort of indicated that he would like to be there to hand over the presidential sash to his successor. Obviously emboldened by the cancellation of the elections, some of the protesting groups are also calling for Martelly's immediate removal before the end of his term, which is Feb. 7. I think the most likely situation would be some sort of deal where Martelly leaves office at the end of his term on Feb. 7, and as a consensus government is formed, I think the question now is what the makeup of that government would look like.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Jake, I wanted to get your view on why the Obama administration had supported going forward with elections until the 11th hour, elections where there would only really in essence be one candidate and despite the widely held view from people on the ground there in Haiti and international human rights groups that the first round of balloting was rife with fraud. Why would the Obama administration want to go forward here?

JAKE JOHNSTON: Yeah, I think that's an excellent question. I think you know a lot of the political support behind Martelly for pushing this right till the edge and letting these tensions build over the previous months has been that support from the international community. I think when you look at it, I think there's a number of interests there. One is obviously the funders of this election; they have a lot of interests in seeing it happen in an orderly manner. There's also been obviously billions of dollars invested in this country by the international community after the earthquake, and really dating back to the 2004 coup after which the UN troops have been in Haiti, and so there's been a tremendous amount of money spent on trying to build up Haiti's institutions by the international community and to see this process forward was supposed to be a sort of a culmination of this action. And this also dates back to the 2010 election, where Martelly came to power in which there were also many problems in the election and it wasn't until actually, Martelly supporters took to the streets and the international community intervened that he was able to make it to runoffs and go to the elections.

In fact, the person who he displaced in that round then, in 2010, was Jude Celestin, the man participating in the runoff this time. So I think you really have to go back and see these relationships develop and the roles of all the players to understand where the interest lies, certainly with the international community in the current process.

For more information, see the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR)'s blog, Haiti Relief and Reconstruction Watch at cepr.net.

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