Haitians get a vote, finally

Four years into his tenure as Haiti’s president, Michel Martelly, unfortunately, has ceased to govern his poor country, and now instead rules it through executive order. He has tightened his grip on the reins of power in his still politically stunted nation. But the president himself remains in the grip of the kinds of corruption and self-serving cronyism that have long impeded Haiti’s progress toward sustainability.

This is not what Haiti’s citizens envisioned when they, reluctantly, elected president the man whom they thought would, post-earthquake, put them on a firmer, straighter path to a democratic future of prosperity and political stability. He has tried to fulfill some of those hopes, while failing miserably to secure others. The fault is not his alone, however, but he bears the overwhelming burden of responsibility.

The good news: Last week, Mr. Martelly announced that elections will start in late summer, three years late. Friday, the deadline for which political parties could register, saw a majority of opposition parties signing up. He must follow through and make sure balloting happens.

Mr. Martelly said Haiti would hold the first round of legislative elections on Aug. 9, with the second round on Oct. 25 — along with local and presidential elections. Mr. Martelly earned harsh criticism for appointing 140 mayors without balloting. If no one wins the presidency outright, a runoff would take place Dec. 27.

Elections are a little more than four months away, but they might as well be four centuries off — anything can happen between now and then. Haiti remains that fragile.

Street protests persist, and have grown in intensity, insisting that Mr. Martelly step down. People have, for three years, been denied a say in their government, and despite strides in recovering from the 2010 earthquake, too many citizens remain on the margins, very poor in this poorest of nations in the Western Hemisphere.

Most of the people who languished in tents have roofs over their heads now. Nighttime streets are lighted by solar panels. There is investment in infrastructure, hotels, factories, bringing some jobs. And more children are finding a primary-school education available to them.

But here’s what else disgruntled Haitians see: A president, now engaged in one-man rule, who is cocooned by aides, staffers and friends trafficking in drugs and corruption, kidnapping and even murder. According to a story in the New York Times last week, a senior adviser to the president was imprisoned for six months, accused of killing a man in a gunfight, then freed without a trial. Another friend of Mr. Martelly disappeared last year after being released from jail in a marijuana-trafficking case. The prosecutor in that case fled Haiti because of the fear of retaliation.

And Mr. Martelly gives them cover, obviously loyal to a fault. Instead of distancing himself from such dangerous leeches, the president embraces them.

Mr. Martelly has been willfully blind to the corruption that surrounds him. However, he is not blind to the challenges he must confront. Last week, he requested that the U.N. Security Council delay its plan to draw down the 5,021 peacekeepers on the ground.

With rising insecurity and violence and a tense election cycle coming, the Security Council should seriously consider the request, especially if Haiti is in danger of losing what progress has been accomplished. And the president must remember that he was elected to govern, not to rule.