Come Jan. 15, Haiti’s bicameral parliament will cease to function as the term of the lower chamber’s 99 members will come to an end, and the Senate, already amputated of one-third of its 30 members, will lose another third.
Consequently, President Michel Martelly will be governing by decree, a prospect that is scary at best, since the president has diluted the already-thin capital of trust he enjoyed within the nonpartisan civil society and the political opposition. Along the way, he has displayed a critical lack of institutional knowledge, alarming signs of dictatorial reflexes and a penchant for wasteful spending.
How did we get here?
Since coming into power in May 2011, President Martelly has failed to hold legislative and municipal elections. He has, paradoxically, resurrected the defunct “Carnival of Flowers” (a nod to his Duvalierist models), thus holding two extravagant carnivals a year in a country where children are starving to death and where the most basic of sovereign acts, elections, are bankrolled by the international community.
Never miss a local story.
During the past few months, however, Martelly has shown some interest in holding elections, mostly to avoid losing the support of international allies. In the Senate, however, six senators have been preventing the process from moving forward by making it impossible, through absenteeism, to achieve the quorum necessary for the electoral bill to be voted into law.
In a situation where the president controls six of the nine members of the electoral council, while having co-opted the majority of the congressmen, those six senators are quickly hailed as the latest rampart keeping tyranny at bay. It is, however, difficult to admit that their opposition is motivated by democratic ideals when most of them actively supported former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s dictatorial regime, and one of them was a notorious human-rights violator during that time.
In fact, in the poker game Haiti has become, neither Martelly nor the radical opposition wants elections. Martelly can’t wait to start governing by decree so he can grant important government contracts without following the procurement process, appoint his friends and allies to key positions, finally hold elections and see to his succession without parliamentary hindrance.
As for the radical opposition — the record reflects there currently is a reasonable opposition that has kept its distance from the aforementioned sextet of senators. It believes that once parliament is gone, the government will lose so much legitimacy that it will be overthrown. Some voices are already calling for parliament’s departure to be contemporaneous with Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe’s resignation because, they claim, the latter draws his legitimacy from the former.
In such a noxious political environment, where bad faith and hubris on both extremes of the political spectrum are holding 10 million people hostage, it is disheartening that some “friends” of Haiti in the international community are praising the government for its effectiveness.
The international community has made it a habit to hold Haiti’s successive governments to an extremely low standard, praising them for cosmetic achievements while they are stealthily destroying the country’s institutions and preventing political progress from occurring. This has the unfortunate effect of undermining the efforts of the country’s already weak civil society to hold our shifty leaders accountable.
Unfortunately, each time they help us fail, our friends are quick to blame us exclusively for our failure. And Jan. 15, 2015, will be no different.
Frandley Denis Julien is a former community leader in Cap-Haitien, Haiti. He currently studies law at FIU.