Former Haitian Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe who lobbied politicians in Washington, pleaded with the diaspora in Miami and launched a campaign in Port-au-Prince and on social media to be a contender in Haiti’s upcoming presidential elections, had his hopes officially dashed Friday by the country’s elections panel.
Lamothe and six other former government ministers have all been blocked from running for president, according to the final presidential list by the nine-member Provisional Electoral Council and obtained by the Miami Herald.
Though electoral officials did not list the reasons for their rejection, they all have one thing in common: they lack a décharge or discharge certificate from parliament certifying that they properly managed state funds during their tenure.
In the end, elections officials qualified 58 of the 70 people who registered to run in the Oct. 25 balloting to replace President Michel Martelly, who by law is barred from seeking consecutive five-year presidential terms. Among the 12 rejected candidates are: Sen. Edwin “Ed” Zenny, former Foreign Minister Duly Brutus and former Social Affairs Minister Josefa Gauthier. Gauthier had initially been recommended to move forward in the process by an elections panel but the decision overturned this week by the National Bureau of Electoral Challenges (BCEN).
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The most highly anticipated decision since Haiti announced plans to hold three rounds of elections this year after more than three years of delays, it is consistent with the decision taken by the council in the Aug. 9 legislative election. Last month, the council, commonly referred to as the CEP, blocked a former justice minister and a social affairs minister from running for the Senate because they did not have their discharge.
Also, as in the case of the legislative elections, council members rejected a U.S. born entrepreneur, Anthony Bennett, who had renounced his nationality in hopes of making a run for the Haitian presidency.
Bennett, who presented officials with a State Department certificate showing he no longer held dual nationality, is dumbfounded. After his candidacy was challenged, he began running ads on Haitian radio in hopes of influencing elections officials.
Bennett’s media campaign, however, was nothing compared to Lamothe’s. The businessman who graduated from Barry University, held press conferences in Port-au-Prince and Miami, appeared on talk radio and took to Twitter and Facebook to criticize the process and promote his candidacy.
Lamothe argued that while the law requires a discharge to run, it was impossible to get because Haiti had been without a functioning parliament since January. He also pointed out that exceptions had been made in previous electoral years to allow candidates to run without a discharge.
At one point, the campaign seem to teeter on the bizarre and comedic as Lamothe’s supporters claimed that a private telephone conversation — in which U.S. support of his candidacy was alluded to — leaked and announced that investigators were on their way from Miami to Haiti to look into the breach.
On Wednesday, a Haitian journalist even went as far as to announce on social media that the U.S. Senate was preparing to “punish the electoral coup in Haiti,” in reference to an amendment Sen. Marco Rubio, the Florida Republican running for president, pushed through a key committee on a State Department bill. The Rubio-sponsored amendment, among other things, conditions the release of any U.S. funds to Haiti on the State Department’s reporting of any attempt to use politics “to disqualify candidates” for office in Haiti.
The Department of State, “cannot just stand on the sidelines and claim this is a ‘Haitian issue.’ Free and fair elections do not seem to be shaping up in Haiti if Lamothe is left out of the race, and U.S. interests are also at stake,” Damian Merlo, senior adviser to Lamothe’s campaign, told the Herald.
The strict application of Haiti’s electoral law means that not only are 12 candidates now out of the race, but that for the first time in recent memory, none of the candidates running for president or parliament will have had prior experience as a minister in government.
“This is a first,” said Robert Fatton, a Haiti expert at the University of Virginia. “The CEP is more autonomous than I expected.”
Still, with Lamothe supporters having warned of serious trouble should his candidacy be rejected while demanding the dismissal of several CEP members, including its president, Pierre-Louis Opont, some still doubt that elections will happen and believe that the country is, instead, headed toward a transition government.
Concerns about the list’s publication prompted the U.S. Embassy this week to issue a warning to American citizens in Haiti that it had receive word of possible protests and to keep in mind that demonstrations in Haiti could quickly escalate and turn violent. The CEP, also concerned about possible turmoil, waited to Friday to release the information although they had already qualified candidates on Thursday, just hours after the National Bureau of Electoral Challenges (BCEN) posted its appellate decision in the case of Lamothe and 10 other presidential hopefuls whose candidacies had been challenged.
“Two questions remain to be answered: What will the ‘excluded’ do now, and what will be the reaction of the U.S. and the other key international players?” Fatton added. “If things stand and there is no immediate crisis and Laurent Lamothe and the others cannot run, then the presidential elections will be wide open with no clear front runner.”
Of those who did make the cut, there are about a dozen or so with name recognition. They include notary Jean-Henry Ceant; Sen. Steven Benoit; former government agency head Jude Célestin; Quisqueya University Rector Jacky Lumarque; former mayor and Sen. Jean-Charles Moise; former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide spokeswoman Dr. Maryse Narcisse; evangelist Chavannes Jeune; lawyers Andre Michel and Newton Louis St. Juste; university professor Sauveur Pierre-Etienne; factory owner Charles-Henry Baker; former Senate President Simon Desras and former head of the Haiti National Police Mario Andresol. Célestin, Baker and Jeune have all ran for president previously.
What the field doesn’t seem to have, say observers, is a René Préval of 2006 who was dragged out of seclusion to lead Haiti to relative political stability after a bloody coup forced the 2004 ouster of Aristide or even presumably a Michel Martelly. An unconventional candidate, the one-time music star became the unexpected winner of Haiti’s 2010 presidential elections.