At the United Nations Security Council meeting last week, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power did not mince words regarding who was to blame for Haiti’s electoral impasse. Power, speaking to the assembled members, stated bluntly [PDF]:
But a group of six senators seems intent on holding elections hostage to partisan concerns, even going so far as to prevent a debate on the electoral law.
Legislators in a democracy have a responsibility to defend their constituents’ rights. But when elected officials take advantage of democracy’s checks and balances to cynically block debates and elections altogether, they stand in the way of addressing citizens’ real needs.
It wasn’t just the U.S. referencing the so called “Group of 6.” The head of MINUSTAH, the U.N. mission in Haiti, also blamed a “group of Senators opposed to the El Rancho Accord.” Today, in a separate action, 15 U.S. members of Congress wrote to the Senate president Simon Desras. As the Miami Herald reports, the lawmakers wrote that:
“We are deeply concerned that the Haitian Senate has been unable to pass the requisite legislation to authorize elections this year….We believe that Haitians deserve better than to have this fundamental democratic right continually delayed.”
But, the Herald continues, “[i]n addition to the senators, several large political parties in Haiti are also opposed to the agreement and were not part of the negotiations [the El Rancho Accord]. In addition to raising constitutional issues, Martelly opponents have also raised questions about the formation of the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) tasked with organizing the vote. Many feel that it is currently being controlled by the executive.”
Opposition leader Mirlande Manigat, a conservative who lost to Martelly in a run-off election in 2011 and is a constitutional scholar, responded to the comments from the U.S. and the U.N., saying it was unreasonable to overlook the role that Martelly has played in the delay:
“For three years, he refused to call elections. A large part of this is his fault…It is unfair to accuse the six senators for the crisis.”
As we have noted previously, there are legal and constitutional reasons behind the oppositions’ electoral stance. According to Mario Joseph, managing lawyer for the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux, “Prompt elections are much needed, but elections will only remedy Haiti’s political crisis if they are run fairly by a constitutionally-mandated electoral council. President Michel Martelly has delayed elections for three years because he does not want to lose the political control he has enjoyed without full parliamentary oversight.”
Given the outrage coming from the U.S. and other foreign powers about the delayed elections and the focus on this group of senators, it could be easy to forget that indeed, as Joseph and Manigat point out, this issue has been developing for years, a fact of which the international community is well aware. For starters, much of the current political stalemate arises from the deeply flawed presidential elections in 2010, through which Martelly was elected only after the arbitrary intervention of the Organization of American States. Since that election, every year, without fail, the Martelly government has pledged to hold elections and then subsequently failed to live up to its promises. By overlooking this background and simply blaming a group of six senators, the international community and the U.S. are once again prioritizing the holding of any election, without regard to the quality of said election.
To illustrate just how long this has been an issue, and the changing viewpoints and criticisms from the international community one need only look back over the last few years of U.N. Security Council meetings.
In September 2011 Martelly had been in office for less than 6 months. With partial legislative elections on the horizon, then head of MINUSTAH Mariano Fernandez Amunategui spoke to the council [PDF]:
“It will also be important to support the electoral process in Haiti, which is preparing for partial legislative and local Government elections in November. In that respect, I stress that electoral reform, including the establishment of a credible permanent electoral council, is indispensable if Haiti hopes gradually to reduce its dependence on international electoral assistance.”
One year later, after those scheduled elections had not taken place, Fernandez once again addressed the Security Council [PDF]:
An exceptional situation in Haitian political life is currently being played out in that the Senate, which is theoretically made up of 30 members, today has only 20 members… That continues to distort political life, with negative consequences for the democratic stabilization process in Haiti In addition, there is at present a serious impasse in the formation of the Permanent Electoral Council.
The formation of an electoral body of nine members in accordance with the stipulations of the Constitution is an unavoidable prerequisite for any elections; its establishment will determine how soon the pending elections can be held to renew a third of the Senate as well as to elect all municipal mayors and councillors. That is why MINUSTAH is currently working in coordination with the international community to promote dialogue and prepare the way for the soonest possible establishment of a Permanent Electoral Council that is legitimate and legal and that enjoys the broadest possible support.
That year (another with no elections held), the terms of some 130 mayors expired. Rather than let them continue until elections were held, they were replaced by appointees of Martelly. Fast forward another year, and MINUSTAH has a new head, Sandra Honoré. In her address to the Security Council, she states [PDF]:
Turning to the political situation, the continued delay in the holding of long-overdue partial senatorial, municipal and local elections is of increasing concern and poses a series of risks to the stabilization process. Yesterday’s long-awaited submission to Parliament by President Martelly of the draft electoral law that is required to launch the electoral process is a most welcome development. However, there have been protracted delays caused, in part, by the eight months that it took the three branches of Government to designate the nine members of the Electoral Council…
But most importantly, last year Honoré explicitly stated what has caused this grouping of senators to come together:
Despite the executive branch’s repeated public statements in favour of holding the elections as soon as possible, those delays have led a number of political and civil society actors to express skepticism concerning the likelihood that elections will be held in 2013.
Delays in the submission of the draft electoral law by the executive to Parliament fuelled speculation among legislators that the executive had intentionally delayed the process to ensure that Parliament would become non-functional. That perception united a grouping of main opposition parties that repeatedly and publicly called on President Martelly to uphold the constitutional requirement of timely elections, or else to resign, thus popularizing the chant calling for “elections or resignation”.
Again, another year passed without elections. For years now, the international community has called for elections which respect the constitution and reflect a broad consensus. Now, however, with the terms of another third of the Senate and the entire lower house set to expire in January, the calls for elections have become deafening. Unfortunately, it appears as though the U.S. and other countries involved in Haiti, after doing little more than make speeches each year calling for elections, are now willing to accept any sort of election, even if it doesn’t follow the constitutional provisions that they themselves have been citing over the last three years. It is true that Haiti needs to hold elections, but after the debacle in 2010 (largely shoved on Haitians by the international community), it would be wrong to discard the objections of a large section of Haitian society and push forward with another deeply flawed election.