At OAS meeting, friends of Haiti pin hopes on Oct. 9 election

Interim Haiti President Jocelerme Privert meeting with ministers before deciding to order voters to the polls.
Interim Haiti President Jocelerme Privert meeting with ministers before deciding to order voters to the polls.

Buoyed by the desire to get a democratically elected government in Haiti, diplomats at the Organization of American States on Wednesday said they welcomed interim Haitian President Jocelerme Privert’s executive order for the country’s 5.8 million voters to report to the polls on Oct. 9 to vote on a new president.

But while many, led by representatives of the 15-member Caribbean Community (Caricom), spoke in support of the process underway, all called on Haiti’s parliament to swiftly decide whether to keep or replace Privert, whose 120-day term expired June 14. Left unresolved, the OAS permanent council warned, Haiti’s worsening political crisis could ultimately jeopardize the presidential vote.

“It is time to make a decision that should have been made a long time ago,” Antigua Ambassador Ronald Sanders said, echoing OAS-Secretary General Luis Almagro’s recent statements.

Last week, after Haitian lawmakers blocked a vote on Privert for the fourth time in a month by failing to assemble a quorum, Almagro decried the “dilatory tactics.” On Wednesday, Canada joined in the criticism, saying that it is “deeply concerned by the dysfunctional actions of the political class in Haiti.”

“Haiti faces a democratic crisis, and it’s getting worse,” its representative said.

The OAS meeting was requested by Haiti. In opening remarks, Haitian Foreign Minister Pierrot Delienne sought to ease the growing international impatience about the political crisis triggered by last year’s disputed Oct. 25 presidential vote.

“Necessary corrections have been brought to the process,” Delienne said. “We are bound and determined to have free, honest, democratic, inclusive, and transparent elections.”

The interim government, he said, hoped to “finally and once and for all bring an end to the unending electoral crisis” with Privert’s decision Tuesday night setting the election date for Oct. 9.

The elections, Privert said in live broadcast, “constitute a major and unavoidable challenge for the political and democratic future of our country. Under no circumstances can we miss the deadline.”

Under the recommendations of the Provisional Electoral Council, the October elections will feature a redo of last year’s contested presidential first round and feature 27 candidates. It also includes runoffs for dozens of legislative seats and elections for one tier of the 30-member Senate.

Runoffs for the unresolved Senate races, where 149 candidates are vying for 10 seats, along with runoffs for the presidency and thousands of municipal seats, are slated for Jan. 8.

Privert’s move is a controversial one at home. On Wednesday, opposition lawmakers and a spokesman for former President Michel Martelly’s political party argued that Privert lacks the authority to convene voters because his term as interim president has expired. Supporters point out that while Parliament has failed to decide on his fate, Privert enjoys the support of a majority of lawmakers and the main goal of the accord, electing a president, remains unfinished.

“There is a minority group of parliamentarians who are determined to make things difficult and to ensure that the success of the presidential elections will remain in jeopardy,” Delienne told ambassadors about the political crisis.

Diplomats did not address Privert’s legitimacy. They called news of the executive order “a significant and most welcomed development.”

But Kevin Sullivan, the representative for the U.S., which has been unenthusiastic about the election rerun, offered a tepid comment: “We support the government of Haiti’s efforts to hold elections no later than Oct. 9.”

Still unclear is how Haiti will pay for the balloting, which will cost $55 million. So far, the country has about $18 million, including $6 million left over in a United Nations -controlled elections trust fund from last year’s disputed legislative and presidential vote.

Earlier this month, the U.S. government notified Haitian officials that it will not finance the upcoming elections. The Obama administration also asked two United Nations agencies to refund at least $1.9 million that was given as part of the United States’ $33.4 million elections financing for voting materials and ballot transport.

In a July 15 letter, Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and Sen. Benjamin Cardin, D-Md., told U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry that “if effective steps are not taken to resolve Haiti’s political crisis, the U.S. should reexamine the provision of non-humanitarian assistance to the government of Haiti.”

Dominica Ambassador Hubert Charles, who issued a statement on behalf of Caricom, said the regional economic bloc is prepared to offer technical assistance. Charles called on other member states “to rally behind the government and provide the moral, and if necessary, the material and critical partnership support to ensure the success of the elections.”