Six months after Haiti’s parliament dissolved, leaving President Michel Martelly to rule without checks and balances, the country’s electoral council Thursday officially opened campaigning.
“I am voting. We are voting. Let’s all participate,” read banners in Creole draped across Port-au-Prince streets by the Provisional Electoral Council, known by its French acronym, CEP.
“Elections are moving forward,” said Frédéric Bolduc, special representative of the Organization of American States in Haiti. “[The] CEP has made great efforts to be able to deliver a first round on Aug. 9.”
Technically, there are no impediments to Haiti’s voters going to the 1,558 polls to cast ballots for candidates in the 139 legislative posts, international observers say. And while a $26 million funding gap still exists for the scheduled Oct. 25 presidential elections and possible Dec. 27 runoff, the first round is fully funded.
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Meanwhile, the ballots bearing the names of the 1,856 candidates — 233 for 20 Senate seats and 1,623 for 119 seats in the lower Chamber of Deputies — have been printed. The elections have been delayed for more than three years.
But technical readiness aside, skepticism remains among Haitians about the CEP’s ability to pull off the vote. Among the concerns: the slow pace of recruitment for poll workers, readiness of the police and several brewing crises that could either postpone the vote, or turn it into a mess, obeservers say. Fueling electoral skepticism is the growing migration crisis with the Dominican Republic, and a controversial decision by the CEP to eliminate presidential candidate Jacky Lumarque from its list of 58 approved candidates.
A CEP communique said Lumarque, a university president, was disqualified because he had not received a discharge certificate from parliament certifying that he had properly handled government funds when he ran a presidential state education committee. Lumarque’s supporters argue that he never handled funds, and note other presidential candidates who served on commissions remain in the race despite their lack of a discharge.
They also reject CEP President Pierre-Louis Opont’s argument that Lumarque turned in a discharge certificate late. Lumarque, his supporters say, never requested an audit of his tenure on the committee to obtain the discharge certificate.
“The CEP made a mistake,” said Bernard Craan, a member of Lumarque’s team. “Their mistake was to accept a letter from political parties after the list of candidates was published, and after the decision was taken by the courts of the CEP.’’
Craan said they have proof that the auditors’ court decided that Lumarque did not need the certificate, long before the CEP ejected Lumarque on June 19.
“They did not contact Jacky Lumarque, they did not contact the court,” he said. “This decision for us is unfair, it’s not abiding by the law and we are going to fight it.”
On Thursday, thousands of Lumarque supporters took to the streets in Port-au-Prince to demand his reinstatement. Similar peaceful demonstrations were also held in Gonaives, Jacmel and Marigot.
Opont did not respond to questions from the Miami Herald about Lumarque’s removal. Former President René Préval backs Lumarque.
On Wednesday, Opont met with members of the diplomatic corps where several diplomats questioned him about the Lumarque decision. Concerned that the decision has tarnished the CEP’s credibility, foreign diplomats don’t want to be viewed as meddling and hope that Haitians, who are for the first time tasked with carrying out elections on their own, will find a solution to prevent the decision from becoming a deeper crisis.
“All said Jacky Lumarque was OK,” said Pierre Esperance, the head of the country’s largest human rights group. “Then weeks after attacks against René Préval, Verite and members of the CEP, the CEP took the decision to put him out of the race. It gives you the impression that it’s a political decision rather than something based on legal grounds.”
While the electoral decree gives the elections tribunals the right to remove a candidate on the basis of new information, upon the request of the CEP, observers point out the decision was made by the CEP.
Esperance said if the legislative elections do happen, he fears there will be low voter participation and violence.
“The CEP has not done any civic education campaign to mobilize voters on the necessity of these elections and participation will be weak,” he said. “The people who will benefit are the drug traffickers, delinquents, kidnappers and people who are implicated in crimes who are part of the electoral process. We have a lot of fear that the next parliament will be a parliament of bandits.”
Michel Eric Gaillard, a Port-au-Prince political analyst, is more optimistic. The CEP, he said, can pull off the elections if it remains organized, funds are distributed — and there is no burning of tires in the streets.
“If there is security, people will go and vote. I will go and vote,” he said.