Of Haiti’s 27 presidential contenders, six have the best shot at the seat

A campaign flag, right, of presidential candidate Jude Célestin flies next to Haiti's national flag on a street in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Célestin finished 2nd last year in the opening round of the presidential election, which was later annulled amid accusations of fraud. He is now one of 27 candidates vying to lead Haiti for the next five years in an election redo set for Nov. 20.
A campaign flag, right, of presidential candidate Jude Célestin flies next to Haiti's national flag on a street in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Célestin finished 2nd last year in the opening round of the presidential election, which was later annulled amid accusations of fraud. He is now one of 27 candidates vying to lead Haiti for the next five years in an election redo set for Nov. 20. AP

Of the 27 candidates vying to lead this disaster-prone nation over the next five years, only six are actively campaigning and have the best shot at the seat.

The six top contenders include two women (a political party leader and a doctor), a former senator, a mechanical engineer, a lawyer and serial entrepreneur.

All but one of the six — Edmonde Supplice Beauzile — have had strong ties to one or more of the former elected presidents: Michel Martelly, René Préval and Jean-Bertrand Aristide. And one, former Préval protégé Jude Célestin, leads the pack with the largest number of ex-presidential candidates campaigning for him as part of an unprecedented coalition.

“This seems to be a new development, perhaps signaling a certain maturation of the campaigning process,” Haiti expert Robert Maguire said about the candidates having proxies — be it former presidents or former presidential candidates — campaigning for them.

Also unusual is the visibly active role of one former president, Aristide, in the race. A recluse, the twice-exiled former president has taken to the streets to campaign on behalf of his Fanmi Lavalas political party pick, Dr. Maryse Narcisse.

While Aristide’s involvement has raised questions about whether it is Narcisse or Aristide who is the candidate, it also has raised the stakes.

Despite the involvement of proxies, the candidates have tried to step out of the shadows of their one-time presidential mentors and push their own programs.

Campaigning on similar issues, such as local production and economic growth, some have announced what experts consider to be exaggerated promises — a 12 percent annual growth rate, 100,000 jobs in 100 days, a metro system — if elected. All have promised to reduce poverty and resume national sovereignty despite Haiti's dependence on foreign donors for everything from disaster relief to providing health and education to the population.

The biggest challenge for the winner — who must get 50 percent plus 1 of the votes, or finish 25 percent ahead of his or her nearest opponent to avoid a runoff — will be to turn promises into action.

Otherwise, said Maguire, “Haiti is in for continued deterioration, with international agencies continuing to ‘own’ the country through their projects and determination of what those projects should be.”

Here is a look at the candidates in alphabetical order:

Edmonde Supplice Beauzile: As the president of the Fusion Social Democrats political party, Beauzile is one of the few female party leaders in Haiti who also built the party’s house, a luxury in this impoverished nation. She’s a former member of the Lower Chamber of Deputies and senator representing the Central Plateau region.

She’s a specialist in education, who has worked as a consultant for various international organizations. Among her accomplishments: earning a general education degree from the University of Montreal while serving in parliament.

Beauzile, 55, has accused her opponents of contributing to the country’s corruption of the past 30 years and financing their presidential bid with money from the treasury, allegations they’ve denied. Critics have dismissed her attempts to cast herself and her party as outsiders, pointing out that Fusion was represented in both the Martelly and second Préval governments, and as a senator, Beauzile voted in favor of Martelly friend, Laurent Lamothe, to become prime minister.

She says she and Fusion are the only ones who can bring the country together, and have “the country function like a state.”

Jean-Henry Céant: An attorney and notary, Céant, 60, first made his political debut on the Renme Ayiti or “Love Haiti” ticket in 2010. That election, however, was marred by irregularities and violent protests.

In 2012, contemplating a possible return to politics, Céant hired New York-based Park Strategies, paying the firm $5,000 a month to introduce him to influential Americans, according to the Associated Press. Active in several international notary organizations, Céant, is also well-versed in and teaches accounting, statistics and Spanish.

Still running on the “Love Haiti” ticket, he is promoting job creation as part of his platform. The push recently earned rebuke and chuckle during a presidential debate when he promised to create 100,000 jobs in 100 days if elected.

Céant has promised to make the police more professional, to increase the number of officers and to improve public services. He’s also promised to tighten Haiti’s border with the Dominican Republic by placing 40,000 individuals along the border to stand guard.

Jude Célestin: He’s the former head of Haiti’s state construction agency, Centre National des Equipements (CNE). The first to hire women as heavy equipment operators in Haiti, Célestin, 54, and his team have built more than 1,180 miles of roads and been on the front lines of several of the country’s big disasters. They removed and buried more than 298,000 dead souls after the Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake, and cleaned up Gonaives after Tropical Storm Hanna and Hurricane Ike in 2008 deposited 2.5 million cubic meters of mud in the city.

The son of educators, he’s a mechanical engineer and entrepreneur. He was a political neophyte when Préval tapped him in 2010 to succeed him on the UNITY ticket. But his candidacy came to a halt when then U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, following an Organization of American States report, traveled to Haiti and demanded that Préval, accused of trying to steal the election, remove Célestin from the runoff in favor of singer Michel Martelly.

Stepping out of Préval’s political shadows, Célestin filed to run again in 2015, this time as candidate on his (LAPEH/Peace) party ticket. Viewed by some as a victim of U.S. intervention, he is also lauded for refusing to bow to U.S. pressure when he participated in the runoff against Martelly’s presidential pick, Jovenel Moïse, after the highly contested Oct. 25 vote. Joined by a chorus of others who alleged that the vote was tainted by widespread massive fraud, Célestin joined forces with seven other presidential candidates. Known as the G-8, they pushed for — and got — a verification of the vote.

During his door-to-door campaign visits to push his priorities of education, health, job creation, respect of institutions and national sovereignty, he has insisted that his is a team effort, pointing out the coalition he’s built to govern the country. It includes at least four former presidential contenders from the Oct. 25 race. Also in his corner is a high-profile cast of Haitian musicians including Wyclef Jean, Gazzman Couleur, Izolan and Sen. Antonio “Don Kato” Cheramy.

Jean-Charles Moïse: One of the more experienced politicians in the group, Moïse, 49, is a former senator, presidential adviser and three-time mayor of the northern city of Milot. He’s also one of the most controversial candidates with critics accusing him of being involved in human rights abuses during the period leading up to Aristide’s 2004 exile amid a bloody uprising. He has been labeled by some as the head of a group accused of killing a bus rider. Moïse has maintained his innocence while insisting that he was a target of repression because of his then support for Aristide.

Once a close political ally of Aristide who eventually became a presidential adviser to Préval, Moïse is no longer close to the former priest. He studied political communications in Cuba at the Centro de Estudio para América Latina and has tried to leverage the relationships he made on the island to not only help his candidacy but also his call for the departure of the U.N. peacekeeping mission from Haiti. As a senator during Martelly’s presidency, Moïse was the government’s most vocal critic and part of a group of six senators who blocked the approval of an electoral law until changes were made. He later called for the departure of Martelly as the organizer behind various protests.

On the campaign trail, he’s pushed a populist agenda, calling for an end of business as usual, the rights and dignity of everyday Haitians and also has criticized the country’s economic elite. He’s also called for tighter scrutiny over mines.

He counts among his friends, Cuban dictator Fidel Castro and among his chief supporters for president is wealthy Texas businessman and former Haitian presidential candidate Dumarsais Siméus.

Jovenel Moïse: Serial entrepreneur and political newcomer, 48-year-old Moïse (no relation to Jean-Charles Moïse) goes by the moniker nèg bannan nan (banana man). He is the former president of the Chamber of Commerce and the Northwest Industry (CCINO). He is the presidential pick of former President Martelly, who while not active on the campaign scene, has pushed the Moïse’s candidacy from behind the scenes on behalf of his Parti Haïtien Tèt Kale (PHTK) party.

Among Moïse’s business ventures are an auto parts shop, water distribution and banana plantation. He has pushed his organic banana farming venture as part of his campaign, emphasizing national production and agriculture.

He also has kept up a consistent and persistent presence on the local airwaves. Like Martelly, he has employed the consultancy services of Ostos Sola, the political campaign consulting firm that helped propelled Martelly to victory.

Initially reluctant to criticize Martelly’s administration, Moïse has said he will keep what’s good and do away with the bad. He refuted the fraud allegations of his competitors and others, and has called for quick elections even after Hurricane Matthew hammered the country’s southern peninsula. His strategy has also focused on the rural vote, telling residents of those communities that he will champion their causes if elected.

Maryse Narcisse: A medical doctor with a public health background, she is a former director general of Haiti’s Ministry of Health. Narcisse, 58, has worked in some of the most remote areas of Haiti as well as for the United Nations Development Fund. She is best known, however, as the spokeswoman and one of the most trusted allies of Aristide.

She has been an active member of Fanmi Lavalas, the political party that Aristide built. During Aristide’s seven years in exile in South Africa, Narcisse pushed for his return and fought to have Lavalas participate in elections. This election marks the first one since Aristide's 2004 departure where Fanmi Lavalas is on the ballot.

As part of her platform, Narcisse has pushed a populist platform, emphasizing health and also the construction of a metro system.

Follow Jacqueline Charles on Twitter: @jacquiecharles