ISSN 2330-717X

Haiti’s Electoral Underworld


By Florian Dantreuille

The contested results of the first round of the presidential elections and the recounts of the ballots have triggered a political crisis in Haiti

On November 28, 2010 Haiti staged presidential and legislative elections. Even before the publication of their results, the process was surrounded by tension and controversy. To begin, the Port-au-Prince government agency in charge of supervising the elections, the CEP, prevented fifteen political parties from officially endorsing any popular candidate for the presidency. This included anyone coming from Haiti’s most representative party, the Fanmi Lavalas of exiled former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Moreover, outgoing President René Préval who appointed all nine of the members of the CEP, was accused of meddling in the elections in order to promote his chosen successor, Jude Célestin. After the February decision eliminating Célestin from the run-off ballot, Préval was successful in setting his presidential mandate extended to May 14, 2011.

On December 7, 2010 the CEP had announced results for the first round of the country’s presidential election: former Haitian first lady Mirlande Manigat (from the Rally of Progressive National Democrats Party) and Jude Célestin (chosen successor for Préval’s INITÉ party), gained 31.37 and 22.48 percent of the votes respectively. Popular singer Michel Martelly (running for Repons Peyizan) placed third with 21.48 percent. As soon as these results were made public, accusations of irregularities, ballot stuffing, and of intimidation at voting stations surfaced. The 7,000 votes separating Célestin and Martelly, and the accusations of fraud faced by Préval and his INITÉ party, triggered a political crisis across the nation. The accusations of fraud on their part further weakened the presidential election’s legitimacy by debasing the machinery and procedures in tabulating the electoral outcome.


Since the CEP appeared unable to justify the accuracy of its tally of the votes, as well as resolve the inherent conflict of interests involved in the process of which it had made use, the OAS was called upon to recount the ballots. The OAS’s electoral mission, consisting of nine experts from Canada, Chile, France, Jamaica, and the U.S., was asked to carry out the recount. The OAS ended up challenging the CEP’s preliminary results, charging that due to extortion and inconsistencies, the government-backed presidential candidate, Célestin, should be excluded from the run-off and be replaced by Martelly. The CEP refused for weeks to consent to the OAS’s recommended electoral outcome.

The CEP was supposed to come forth with its final decision on Wednesday, February 2, 2011. As the CEP had not issued any statement setting a specific time for the publication of its findings, both the country and the international community apprehensively awaited the CEP’s actions. As expressed in a message to its staff, the UN considered the situation to be “highly explosive.”1 In preparation for the broadcast and in anticipation of protests and riots, most commercial banks and schools closed early in the day, with security patrolling the streets of Port-au-Prince.2 However, the CEP’s decision was only made public on Thursday February 3, 2011.

INITÉ lost the presidential election but won the legislative ballotings and is still likely to greatly influence the incoming president.

The other candidate in question, Jude Célestin, was involuntarily removed from the race, as a result of the CEP’s action. While this announcement was a crushing blow to Préval’s chosen successor Célestin, the CEP’s decision was not a defeat for his party.3 INITÉ’s candidates are very likely to win the coinciding legislative elections. Three out of the four senators elected after the first round of legislative elections are from INITÉ. Similarly, eleven out of the twenty deputies elected to the lower House during the first round are members of INITÉ. Therefore, as explained by Marcel Dorigny, a historian and professor at the University of Paris VIII,4 if INITÉ retains or perhaps even strengthens its majority in the Senate and the House of Deputies, the next president, irrespective of his or her party affiliation, will be forced to enter into compromises with the opposition. Both presidential candidates are becoming increasingly more aware of this reality, understanding that pragmatic alliances among competing parties will be necessary in order to politically advance the ability to rule the nation.5

President Préval was supposed to leave the presidency on February 7, 2011 but will remain as interim president until May 14, 2011

Another crucial issue facing the electorate was the question of the continuity of presidential power in Haiti. Due to ongoing controversies and incidents of political protests, election results have been drawn out for four months. The second round of the election will take place on March 20, 2011 and the results are expected on April 16, 2011. This scenario requires that Préval remains in office during an interim period, even though he was supposed to depart office on February 7, 2011. The publication Haiti Libre explains that last spring, the upper and lower houses passed a law allowing Préval to remain in power until May 14, 2011. Article 149 of the Haitian Constitution affirms that the president has to transfer his power on February 7, 2011. Conversely, another article maintains that since the duration of the president’s term is five years, Préval can remain president until May 14, 2011.6 Much of the Haitian public and Préval’s opponents have called for the strict application of Article 149 and the formation of a provisional government.7 However, Préval insists on remaining in office.

Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier’s unexpected return to Haiti and its consequences on the island’s political situation

Another crisis erupted when former dictator Jean-Claude ‘Baby Doc’ Duvalier turned up in Port-au-Prince on January 16, 2011. Many wonder what motivated his somewhat bizarre homecoming and if he had followed legal procedures in returning to Haiti after a 25-year-long period in exile. Duvalier initially faced no charges, but within several days the Haitian authorities took him into custody. He was brought before the bench and charged with corruption and acts of embezzlement during his 1971-1986 dictatorship. He was released after questioning, but is now barred from leaving the country.

President Préval and members of the domestic and international communities affirm that Duvalier should face justice and bear the consequences of his admittedly reprehensible actions. However, with more than 38 percent of its citizens today under 15 years old, Haiti has a predominantly youthful population, most of whom were yet unborn when Baby Doc ruled. Most Haitians never experienced Duvalier’s reign, and some may even be inclined to listen to his apology and desires to raise charity funds earmarked for Haiti’s earthquake reconstruction efforts. If one believes him, this could be viewed as a noble reason why Duvalier has decided to come back to Haiti. Baby Doc may have also returned to Haiti to retrieve the funds he is rumored to have squirreled away in addition to his Swiss bank accounts. He also may be counting on the instability of his native country preventing him from having to stand trial.

However, Duvalier’s bank accounts have just been blocked. A recent Swiss law, the Loi sur la Restitution des Avoirs Illicites, ironically nicknamed “Lex Duvalier”, has made it possible for Switzerland to return the 4.6 million Euros to Haiti. Duvalier’s presence could also be used by current President René Préval to divert the attention of the nation and the international community from his own transgressions, in an attempt to preserve his once good name.8 However, debates over the reasons for his return should not be allowed to obscure other equally serious difficulties being faced everyday by ordinary Haitians.

Jean-Bertrand Arisitide’s increasingly likely return to Haiti and the polarization of Haitian politics

Moreover, Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s desire to return to Haiti continues to exacerbate and further complicate the situation. According to Haiti Libre, at least one hundred supporters of Jean- Bertrand Aristide repeatedly demanded the return of the former president who has been in exile in South Africa since 2004. Among the protesters, the cry could be loudly heard: “Aristide must come back, we will die for Aristide.” After Duvalier’s unexpected return to Haiti, Aristide also expressed his desire to come back to Port-au-Prince. Every day, this return is looking more and more likely.

Initially, Aristide had encountered trouble obtaining a new passport. His lawyer, Ira Kurzban, travelled to Haiti on February 5th to personally deliver the documents to the incumbent administration. After a lengthy process, he announced on Tuesday February 8, 2011that he was finally able to obtain a new passport for his client. Despite obtaining that document, there are many speculations as to why he has not yet returned to Port-au-Prince. Undoubtedly, within the next few days, Aristide will likely return to Haiti.9

After witnessing Duvalier’s surprising and unexpected homecoming, one might question Aristide’s intentions for returning to Haiti. According to a BBC News article, “Haiti’s exiled former president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, wants to dedicate himself to education not politics”10 Former President Aristide is indeed very popular among Haitians. Several protests have occurred, demanding the departure of current President René Préval and the return of Aristide. However, Préval and his allies—the U.S. and France—could be in the right to be wary of Aristide’s return to the country. Having Aristide and Duvalier back on the island might only serve to further polarize Haiti’s politics. Considering Aristide’s huge popularity, his return could have an incendiary effect on the population and cause what journalist Pierre-Michel Bolivard calls an ”inter-Haitian confrontation” between Aristide’s supporters and the discredited politicians championed by President René Préval.

Aristide’s motivations are unclear and numerous rumors are currently flying around, exacerbating Haiti’s political crisis.11 The U.S. also continues to fear that Aristide’s return before the second round of the presidential elections, scheduled for March 20, 2011 would only further complicate the situation. Spokesperson Philip J.Crowley, indicated State Department’s policy when he said on Wednesday, February 9, 2011 that the former President’s return would be “an unfortunate distraction” for the Haitians, and could “disrupt the calm needed for an effective election process”.12

Amidst an increasingly tense climate, a discredited CEP and an interfering OAS: preparing for the March 20, 2011 second round of the elections

The main concern of the presidential elections is to make certain that the scandals of the first round will not be repeated in March. Both in the country and abroad, a fear exists that if Haiti does not do everything to guarantee a candid and reliable second election round, the situation in the country will get worse. Tensions are already very strong, as shown by numerous protests, in Jacmel as well as Port-au-Prince, which have led to the police arresting a number of protesters. A climate of insecurity dominates Haiti, where several murders already have taken place, such as the homicide of Jean-Richard Louis, a journalist for Radio Kiskeya on February, 9, 2011.13 Further scandals would be terribly damaging for the situation of the country and its capacity for reconstruction after the earthquake and the cholera epidemic.

However, many voices are now emerging, saying that Haiti is not able to effectively administer elections on the island. The main reason being that the CEP has lost a substantial degree of credibility. The CEP’s image has been further tarnished when it was revealed that only four out of the eight panel members were signatories for the published results. What this means is that the CEP’s internal rules have been violated and as such, as the Center for Economic and Policy Research points out, ”there is some debate as to whether the CEP can now organize the second round of the elections given that the results have not been officially published and [that these] were only signed on to by half of the CEP members.”14 Now, the CEP’s members have themselves become targets of criticism, with Jean-Henry Céant and Yves Cristalin commencing legal action against CEP spokeperson, Richardson Dumel, calling upon him to verify the legitimacy of the results he made public on February, 3, 2011. Specifically, Céant and Cristalin want Dumel to adduce all of the written and oral evidence he relied upon before announcing the CEP’s decision.

In light of all that has transpired with respect to Haiti’s presidential and legislative elections since late November 2010, the OAS has announced that it will deploy more than 200 independent observers to supervise the March 20, round of elections.15 On February 11, 2011 the Assistant Secretary General of the OAS, Albert Ramdin, chaired a ”meeting of the OAS Group of Friends of Haiti on the preparations for the Joint Electoral Observation Mission (JEOM) OAS-CARICOM that will accompany the country’s second round of presidential elections on March 20.”16 The verbal report of the JEOM will be presented to the OAS Permanent Council this afternoon.

However, some voices criticize the OAS and state that JEOM might not be an effective solution for Haiti. For example, the Center for Economic and Policy Research explains that ”the OAS Mission [in Haiti] did not do any statistical inference because of a ‘non-sampling error.’ This presumably refers to the missing votes (some 10 percent of tally sheets).”17 Moreover, the action of the OAS in Haiti after the first round of the presidential election and the pressure exerted on the CEP were viewed as interference by at least some Haitians.


However, the pivotal question is whether or not there is a real solution for Haiti. In light of all the scandals happening everyday and the increasing complexity of the political situation in Haiti, one could wonder what is the most effective plan to exhume the nation from its present plight. During the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the OAS, the Secretary General, José Miguel Insulza, has declared that the situation in Haiti was the sign of a lack of political maturity and that it could harm the OAS. The situation in Haiti may not be the consequence of a lack of political maturity but rather it is the result of a myriad of both external and internal factors. The soonest hope that the situation could begin to be improved is March 20, 2011, but even that forecast may be subject to overcasts.

References for this article can be found here.

This analysis was prepared by COHA Research Associate Florian Dantreuille

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COHA, or Council on Hemispheric Affairs, was founded in 1975, the Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA), a nonprofit, tax-exempt independent research and information organization, was established to promote the common interests of the hemisphere, raise the visibility of regional affairs and increase the importance of the inter-American relationship, as well as encourage the formulation of rational and constructive U.S. policies towards Latin America.

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