The ink on his thumbnail was supposed to be a fraud-proof deterrent, a sign that he had already voted in Haiti’s critical presidential and legislative elections.
But hours after the adviser to Haiti’s Provisional Electoral Council cast his ballot in the now disputed Oct. 25 vote, the indelible ink stain was barely visible, more resembling a fading birthmark than an electoral safeguard.
Nearly two months after the pivotal balloting and three weeks before the scheduled Dec. 27 presidential runoff, Haiti remains at an impasse. Allegations of ballot tampering, fraudulent tabulations and widespread procedural breakdowns — such as failing ink that led to multiple voting — have fanned a widening chorus of doubt about the credibility of the results.
We have a population in the country who globally is not satisfied with the results. Mgr. Patrick Aris, spokesman for the Episcopal Conference of Haiti
In the last week, calls for “truth and transparency” into the presidential results have expanded from the field of 54 presidential candidates and local election observers to human rights organizations and powerful religious leaders. On Monday, a coalition of U.S.-based diaspora organizations joined the demands, calling for the “counting of all ballots in the presence of independent observers.”
The growing demands come amid deepening concerns that the widespread mistrust and perceived partisan conduct of the nine-member election council, known as the CEP, is cementing voter apathy in a nation where increasingly fewer and fewer people believe democracy works. The risk, says some Haitian analysts, is continued instability with a weak president who is unable to consolidate parliament or create jobs because he lacks legitimacy.
“We have a population in the country who globally is not satisfied with the results,” said Mgr. Patrick Aris, spokesman for the Episcopal Conference of Haiti, which said last week that its observers deployed across the country found glaring irregularities and a marred process.
Haiti’s 5.8 million registered voters, Aris said, have “doubts about the credibility and doubts about the structure that is there to do the work. For us in the Catholic Church, this poses a problem because the electoral institution is losing value.”
No solutions are adequate without first, an evaluation of what happened on Oct. 25. Jude Célestin, runoff presidential candidate
So far, the calls for an inquiry into the vote have been rejected by elections officials and foreign diplomats, including U.S. Haiti Special Coordinator Kenneth Merten, who flew to Port-au-Prince last week. Merten had hoped to convince Jude Célestin, the former head of the state construction agency who placed second, to participate in the runoff.
“No solutions are adequate without first, an evaluation of what happened on Oct. 25,” Célestin told the Miami Herald. “It’s needed to legitimize the vote and help guarantee stability in the country.”
Célestin, 53, has rejected the results, calling them a “ridiculous farce.” He has made an independent evaluation a main condition for participating in the second round against Martelly’s hand-picked successor, banana exporter Jovenel Moise. Last week, his coalition of presidential candidates, dubbed the G-8, warned Haiti risked a transition government if verification of the vote and other conditions were not met for an improved runoff.
Meanwhile, the electoral crisis continues to gain momentum as the legitimacy and integrity of the process is upended. On Saturday, the opposition continued its growing and often violent street protests demanding the departure of Martelly and CEP President Pierre-Louis Opont.
Days earlier, 13 human rights organizations signed a letter condemning, among other things, the CEP’s “stubborn attitude.” The activists have since announced a march for Thursday in protest of the vote violation.
Meanwhile, on the day of Merten’s meetings, Le Nouvelliste newspaper featured a two-page ad by opposition party Fanmi Lavalas on behalf of its presidential candidate Dr. Maryse Narcisse. The party published its petition to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights seeking precautionary measures for the creation of an independent commission of experts to investigate the results of the elections.
Narcisse is one of only two candidates who legally challenged her finish in the electoral courts. But her right to due process was denied, said her lawyer Gervais Charles after a random vote check of 78 tally sheets showed they should have been tossed out because of fraud and irregular tallies. Instead of scheduling oral arguments, the CEP published the final presidential results maintaining Narcisse’s fourth place finish.
Acknowledging that Haiti is facing a serious social crisis, Prime Minister Evans Paul has formed a government commission in hopes of finding a compromise and salvaging the elections.
But while Paul is generally supportive of the verification request, the international community fears doing so could derail the presidential runoff and jeopardize the legislative elections that also took place on Oct. 25 along with mayoral balloting. Since January, Haiti has been without a functioning parliament and municipal elections are five years late.
The international community with U.S. backing, has instead offered Célestin tighter scrutiny during the runoff vote, and postponement possibly to Jan. 10. They also favored decoupling the presidential vote from a scheduled local elections in hopes of avoiding the Oct. 25 chaos where 915, 675 political party representatives and observers were accredited to vote.
The U.S.’s anti-recount stance is far different from that in the 2010-2011 elections when Célestin, then the government-backed candidate, facing similar fraud allegations, and Merten was U.S. Ambassador to Haiti. Then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton flew to Port-au-Prince to force President René Préval to accept the recommendations of an Organization of American States verification commission. The report, based on eight percent of the vote, led to Célestin’s removal from the runoff in favor of Martelly.
Now, in a reversal of roles, Célestin is demanding a similar scrutiny.
“In 2011, they manipulated the OAS and threatened the Haitian government in order to reverse the results of the first round 2010 presidential election. So it should not be surprising to anyone that U.S. officials will accept any electoral process, no matter how deeply corrupted, that gives them the result that they want,” said Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, a left-leaning organization in Washington.
With perhaps the exception of the 1990 vote that brought former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power, every Haitian presidential election has been marred by controversy and tainted balloting.
This system gives everyone from the people who are going into elections, to those who are organizing the elections the chance to manipulate the process. Pierre Esperance, human rights activist
Longtime Haiti observers say the reasons for this vary from the country’s poorly organized paper and pencil voting and tabulating, which opens the door to cheating and vote rigging, to its winner-take-all mentality. There is also an overall lack of trust among all the players and the country’s weak institutions that were never strengthened after the 1986 fall of its nearly 30-year Duvalier dictatorship.
“Haiti needs a permanent electoral council composed of people...with real authority; capable of being independent of the regime in power, all the so-called civil society representatives, the opposition and the foreign community,” said Robert Fatton, a Haiti-born political analyst at the University of Virginia. “This permanent electoral council has to have the technical capacity to announce the results within 72 hours of the vote and avoid the unending process of contests and counter-contests.”
But Fatton said that can only happen if Haiti’s structural problems of scarcity and obscene inequalities are addressed. The material scarcity plaguing the nation of 10 million, has turned politics into a business where votes are up for sale, going for as little as $25 on Election Day. Among the allegations raised by local observers is that accreditation cards given to political party representatives known as mandataires were sold on the black market for as little as $3. The cards allowed for multiple voting.
While voter turnout was only 26 percent, mandataires accounted for as much as 60 percent of the 1.5 million ballots cast, according to an analysis by a team of U.S. lawyers, also calling for a recount.
“Fraud is pervasive, but those in power have had an advantage since they always use the machinery of the state to advance their interests and maintain their hold on public offices,” said Fatton.
Elections in Haiti, he said, are “a zero-sum game — you are either in power with all the benefits that this entails or you are out in the dust of poverty.”
Political parties, for example, have become an avenue for enrichment, and many vanish quickly after elections.
Haiti needs a permanent electoral council composed of people with real authority. Robert Fatton, Haiti expert
Jean-Max Bellerive, a former prime minister, said after more than two decades of foreign engagement from electoral support to U.N. troops and police on the ground, it’s time for the international community to revise its “institutional reinforcement and think about reinforcing real political parties.”
“They are instead reinforcing structures linked to a particular candidate or administration,” he said.
Most foreign diplomats have shied away from public comments about the crisis other than to say they are committed to staging the runoff. Privately, however, they’ve said the opposition has failed to proved its “massive fraud” claims and all the candidates are guilty of cheating. Paul, the prime minister, hinted as much during a visit to South Florida last month. Haitians, he said, do not respect the rules.
“There is mischievous behavior at every step,” he said. “If you thoroughly evaluate what has happened in the elections, there are people who prefer to do mischief than to find the mechanism for them to win normally.”
Aris, the priest, said foreign and domestic authorities do the country a disservice when they assume that fraud is a a given in Haitian elections and therefore transparency isn’t warranted.
“The problem in the country is that we put it in our heads that nothing can happen normally, something mischievous always has to have been done,” he said. “When the Bishops demand transparency, we are saying, ‘We can act like a normal people and have normal working structures.’
“What does the CEP have to lose by shedding light on the vote? It has everything to gain, like its credibility,” he said. “The CEP needs to save the process and if this commission can save it, I don’t see what it has to lose.”
Pierre Esperance, head of the National Human Rights Defense Network (RNDDH), said it’s difficult to predict how the crisis will be resolved. One thing is certain, Haiti can’t continue with its always start-from-scratch way of voting, he said.
“This system gives everyone from the people who are going into elections, to those who are organizing the elections the chance to manipulate the process and do what they want with the vote,” Esperance said. “In Haiti, we need to have electronic voting, even with our electricity problems. It will in the end cost less money and produce less problems.”